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Disrupting Our Oceans is the Next Big Thing

Saeed Jabbar   |   June 23, 2014    5:00 PM ET

Marc Andreessen caused an uproar when he famously stated that software is eating the world. Here's how software can take a sip from our oceans.

What is a classic scene that comes to mind when you think about our oceans? More often than not it's a picture perfect sunset splashed with the sounds of powerful waves crashing on the shoreline. What I'm about to share with you will make you rethink this scene. I invite you to imagine our oceans in a new light. I invite you to see our oceans as a big sea of code with algorithms as its waves and realize you can hack it!

2014-06-23-fishandchips.png Credit: Fishackathon

As a digital strategist on the Fishackathon project I saw first-hand the struggles coastal communities face due to a lack of technological solutions. For instance, data collection is labor intensive and done by hand through the use of pen and paper. This crucial data solves urgent problems such as illegal fishing. It also enables fishers in rural areas to register their vessels with local governments. Hardware devices and sensors are unavailable leaving measurements and species identification to rulers and dated field manuals.

The economic impact is massive as well. It's estimated that the fishing industry will lose between $17 to $40 billion dollars because of climate change on marine environments by 2050. Software is busy eating the world and these challenges open up the opportunity for it to have a drink from our oceans. Especially since the internet is a series of tubes cross connected under the depths of our oceans.

Now you might feel excited to fire up your favorite IDE and start coding away, but before you do it's important to understand the scope of what's possible when it comes to creating software solutions for our oceans. An important consideration is which programming language you will be building your solution in and the transparency of data.

Open source languages like Ruby, Python and JavaScript are popular in the hacker community but when it comes to implementing software solutions for our oceans on a government level many governments have a preference for enterprise languages like Java, Objective C, Cobol and .NET. However when it comes to data transparency there is some level of flexibility with local authorities.

Another major road block when it comes to implementing code to save our oceans is the high level of illiteracy in developing coastal communities along with dozens of local dialects. Your tech solutions will have to make use of creative and innovative ways around this while at the same time dealing with limited mobile service in these areas and out at sea.

Many ocean communities and governments are skipping out on desktop computing and joining the mobile revolution. Their chosen devices are typically low cost Symbian phones followed by Android smart phones and tablets. This creates a massive vacuum for mobile web based solutions that work across all platforms and browsers when it comes to choosing a platform to start developing on.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to disrupting our oceans through technology. Even Google is considering investing millions of dollars into a new under the sea cable that will connect its data centers in Japan and Oregon. You may also want to consider impactful low tech solutions like the touch screen waterproof bag which comes with communications company Tone's mFish kit. It allows fishers to use their mobile phones out in rough ocean conditions and managed to catch the eye of Leonardo Dicaprio. You can also explore creating open source platforms for fishers like GreenWave's 3D restorative ocean farming protocol.

We're just surfing the waves of what's possible when technology gets a drink from our oceans. Local governments, fishers and coastal communities are ready to work with technology communities across the globe. Find a mate and start coding away as you set sail on a new technological adventure to disrupt our oceans. Your code might just lay the foundation for the next big thing and support the 3 billion people that rely on our oceans for their livelihoods!

If you would like to add to the conversation please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below and share this article.

Protecting Our Air Is Protecting Our Oceans

Dr. Cristián Samper   |   June 20, 2014   12:36 PM ET

President Obama and the EPA recently took historic action to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the nation's coal-fired power plants. While the conventional wisdom (and much of the reporting) on this noteworthy advance for environmental protection has focused on air quality and global climate change, the ruling was cause for considerable cheer among ocean conservationists.

This week marine experts, lawmakers, policy leaders and others came together in the nation's capital for the Our Oceans Conference hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry. On the occasion of this important gathering, it is helpful to remember that the rise in atmospheric carbon has already set off a wide range of cascading impacts through the degradation and alteration of the world's oceans -- whether from rising seas, increased water temperatures, acidification, or the growing number and severity of storm events.

Coral reefs are essential to productive fisheries and the livelihoods of the communities that depend on them. Photo by Stacy Jupiter/WCS.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which I am privileged to lead, operates five wildlife parks in New York City, including the New York Aquarium. We felt the impact of one of the nation's most recent severe weather events -- Hurricane Sandy -- directly as its storm surge overwhelmed Brooklyn's Coney Island boardwalk and unleashed its destructive force on our aquarium.

We are now rebuilding with an eye to greater resiliency. As we rebuild, we are encouraged that the U.S. is demonstrating leadership on climate, for this may be the single largest factor affecting our oceans' future. As institutions like our aquarium grapple with building strategies to ensure greater protection from future storms, resilience likewise figures in broader climate discussions.

In the wake of Sandy, there has been a great deal of conversation and debate about the "ecosystem services" provided by natural infrastructure to protect coastal areas from future storms. Coral reefs, oysters, seagrass, and mangroves all serve as natural storm surge barriers, while increased coastal and marine refugia allow for species and ecosystem recovery.

"Ecosystem services" provided by natural infrastructure like coral reefs, oysters, seagrass and mangroves could protect coastal areas from future storms. Photo by Jane Carter Ingram/WCS.

Even as our government and others move toward a reduced-carbon emissions future, many scientists believe we have already passed a tipping point of climate change impact that may take centuries to reverse. Nevertheless, there are several actions we can take in the immediate term to help our oceans confront the ecological challenges of a warming planet.

We must continue to work with communities in low-lying coastal regions and small islands around the world that are most vulnerable to climate change so they can adequately plan for their future. Because nearshore ecosystems such as coral reefs are essential to productive fisheries and the livelihoods of the communities that depend on them, we must pay special attention to their health and management.

Over the past few years, WCS and other global conservation groups have published studies that offer solutions for identifying the corals most likely to survive our changing climate. By combining layers of historical data, satellite imagery, and field observations, marine scientists have identified low-stress places most likely to benefit from immediate conservation efforts and areas that require more adaptive management.

Conservation efforts in the western Indian Ocean are helping to secure food, fisheries, associated livelihoods, and coastal protection for millions of people. Photo by Caleb McClennen/WCS.

We know, for example, that the ocean waters around Southern Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique across to northeastern Madagascar contain corals with high diversity and low to moderate environmental stress that warrant protection in a region recently decimated by coral bleaching tied to warming temperatures. These are areas where millions of people depend on marine ecosystems for food, fisheries, associated livelihoods, and coastal protection.

Ocean ecosystems are diverse, but fragile. The marine animals that live there are facing serious environmental challenges from pollution, unsustainable fishing, and energy development. It is important to work on protecting and restoring these aquatic habitats now before it is too late. This means both an increased investment in adaptive science-based conservation measures on the ground in combination with increased global leadership in reducing carbon emissions.

Marine mammals face serious environmental challenges today from pollution, energy development, and melting sea ice, among other threats. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

Whether it be for actions taken by the EPA or the State Department, congratulations to the Obama Administration are due for leadership on both carbon emissions and marine conservation. Let these efforts be the first of many. And whether you spend time this summer on the beach, at your local aquarium, or out on -- or under -- the water, please take a moment to appreciate that the quality of our air has a direct connection to vibrant, healthy oceans.

Carla Herreria   |   June 8, 2014   11:48 AM ET

The ocean can be described in an endless number of ways. It's refreshing, beautiful and humbling. It's vast, mysterious and terrifying. It's magnificence has inspired countless novels, films, documentaries, songs, and HuffPost articles.

If it were a god, it would already have millions of devoted disciples -- divers, scientists, surfers, biologists, ocean-going enthusiasts -- who are in constant awe of its power and beauty. That's why, for World Oceans Day, we wanted to explore the reasons we are all drawn to the sea.

Below, 16 reasons the ocean, our beloved resource, is one of the most fascinating elements on our planet Earth.

1. The ocean covers over 70 percent of our planet's surface and contains about 99 percent of the living space on Earth.
According to the MarineBio Conservation Society, humans have only explored less than 10 percent of that "living space," which pretty much means we know absolutely nothing about the blue marble of a world we live in:
dark sea

(OK -- now that we have you thoroughly freaked out, read on...)

2. An estimated 2.2 million species live in the ocean.
Between 50 to 80% of all life on Earth is under the sea:
coral reef turtle

3. Like this jellyfish that ages backwards.
The Turritopsis dohrnii (a.k.a. the "immortal" jellyfish) has the ability to transform itself into a younger state:
immortal jellyfish

4. Or this horseshoe crab.
They've existed on Earth for over 300 million years. That's older than the dinosaurs:
horseshoe crab

5. Or the largest and heaviest animal to ever exist.
The blue whale, which is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, can grow as long as 100 feet and weigh up to 330,000 pounds:
balaenoptera musculus
blue whale

6. But let's talk about the one fish that everyone is absolutely fascinated with -- sharks.
Love 'em or hate 'em, these toothy fish are one parts terrifying, a thousand parts misunderstood. While they are considered an apex predator of the sea, you are at a higher risk of dying from a mosquito bite than a shark:
great white shark

7. Sharks are actually designed to be the ultimate ocean navigators.
Shark skeleton is made of cartilage and its skin is covered with tiny toothlike scales, making them fierce swimming machines. And contrary to common belief, research has shown that sharks have sharp vision and are ten times more sensitive to light than humans -- perfect for preying in dark waters:
shark eye

8. Speaking of dark waters, the average depth of the ocean is around 14,000 feet.
That's more than 40 football fields, from end zone to end zone. There, magnificent, bioluminescent, and sometimes even scary creatures roam about a dark world, like this viperfish:

And bioluminescent jellies, also known as ctenophore:

9. But, in lighter waters, where the sun rays glow, a magnificent forest emerges.
Kelp forests have the ability to grow up to 18 inches per day, creating the perfect, nutrient-rich playground for seals, sea lions, whales and birds:
kelp forest

And adorable sea otters:
sea otter

10. The world's ocean is arguably the most important resource we, as citizens of Earth, have.
Aside from the oceans comprising most of our planet, it is a source of food for hundreds of thousands of species. Sadly, overfishing and other human-created pollution are responsible for harming our greatest resource. If we continue, we may eventually run out of fish, setting a domino effect of disaster. That could mean no more beautiful, thriving reefs like this:
fish reef

Or this mesmerizing bait ball -- press play and watch the hypnotic fish gather by the thousands to protect themselves from predators like dolphins, sharks and birds (yes, aerial attackers swooping in from above):

11. And don't get us started on how naturally clever the ocean can be.
Ever thought, 'Silly Spongebob, how can there be a lake under the sea?' Turns out, we are the silly ones. In parts of the world, like in the waters of Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, hydrogen sulfate mixes with saltwater, making it heavier than regular saltwater and causing it to sink to the bottom and flow like a river:
underwater river

12. The sea is actually way more physically diverse than that tropical beach on your phone's wallpaper.
It's frigid and cold:
antarctic sea

It's fiercely rough and stormy:
stormy ocean

But, of course, it's also warm, crystal clear and incredibly inviting:
tahiti ocean

13. And when the elements align in perfect unison, it's the ultimate playground.
But remember, the ocean isn't just a playground, nor is it only ours. It is a resource we must protect if we want to continue to enjoy it like this:

14. Can we just step back for a moment and take in just how simply beautiful the ocean is?
By the way, submersing yourself in the salty sea is actually good for your mental and physical health:

Deep breath in...

Deep breath out...

15. While we humans don't have gills (yet), the ocean can be one of our greatest spiritual sanctuaries.
Anyone who spends a lot of time in the ocean -- surfing through waves, diving in deep waters, sailing across the world -- can tell you just how humbling the power of the sea is. It can heighten the senses and can give you the most heartfelt and emotional thrill of your life:
(Photo by M Swiet Productions/Getty Images. Quote from Surfer Magazine by Keala Kennelly about surfing Teahupoo in Tahiti. Graphic by HuffPost Hawaii.)

16. The ocean, whether we realize it or not, is the world's most shared resource, jointly used by billions of humans all across the globe.
The sea provides us with air to breathe (ocean plants provide half of the world's oxygen), gives us food to eat (around 3.5 billion people rely on the ocean as their primary food source), and even helps boost our economy (one in every six jobs is marine-related). The Polynesian Voyaging Society recently began a three-year voyage around the world in a wooden canoe, using ancient wayfaring techniques, to prove that we are all connected and need to take care of Mother Earth, just as she takes care of us:
planet earth

James Cave   |   June 6, 2014    9:26 AM ET

Every single living thing on Earth is connected to the ocean. Even you, World's Driest Place, The Atacama Desert! And every year for World Oceans Day, on June 8, we get to profess our love for the 332.5 million cubic miles of our planet that’s made of water. Unfortunately, we’re all guilty of hurting the ocean, if just a little bit, in ways that might be surprising. Here are eight of them, followed by tips to help us right our wrongful ways.

1. Driving

car in ocean

Each time you drive, your car's carbon emissions spread into the atmosphere and the oceans absorb a quarter of the world's carbon dioxide emissions annually. Here's another way of putting it: As atmospheric carbon dioxide rises, so it does in the ocean. This is bad, because lower pH levels make it hard for shelled organisms, such as clams, oysters, corals and some plankton, to live. When these backbones of the ocean die, the repercussions carry throughout the whole ecosystem (if coral reefs are unable to recover from, say, pounding storms, it would affect the million-or-so species that depend on them). Add that to present estimates of future carbon dioxide levels indicating the ocean could be nearly 150 percent more acidic by the 2100s.

What you should do about it: Change your commute by biking or carpooling -- or take inspiration from some of the most adventurous commuters ever.

2. Buying seafood obliviously

fish grocery

Turns out there aren't as many fish in the sea as the broken-hearted might hope. Overfishing, largely due to unsustainable practices by commercial fishing, combined with the collapse of reef systems, could lead to the demise of all the world's fisheries by 2048. And buying fish from places without regard for their sources lends to this trend -- especially if you eat shrimp (most of which is trawl-caught, meaning that up to 15 pounds of unintended wildlife are caught for every one pound of shrimp).

What you should do about it: Use the National Geographic seafood selector, or these pocket guides from Seafood Watch that tell you which fish are more sustainable to eat, and purchase the safe fish from your farmers market. Ask your local store’s fishmonger about its fishing practices. You can also use the Marine Stewardship Council's database of sustainable places to dine or buy your fish.

3. Growing flowers

smelling garden

Even something as delightful as your rose garden can be bad for the ocean. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 75 million pounds of synthetic chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides are put on our crops and gardens every year. The extra nutrients run off into creeks, streams, rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Algae dies and decomposes, sucking the oxygen out of the water and creating "dead zones." Fish also ingest the chemicals, which make them sick. We eat those fish, and we get sick. It's nature's irony.

What you should do about it: Keep your garden as organic as possible.

4. Ordering take-out


Although more and more cities restrict the commercial use of styrofoam containers and plastic bags at restaurants and grocery stores, plastic is still a huge threat to marine life. Plastic bags can take one to two decades to decompose in the ocean, and plastic bottles? A century. Polystyrene, on the other hand (the plastic most commonly used in utensils and Styrofoam), breaks up much faster, but releases the toxic bisphenol A into the waters, endangering sea and land life (basically, all life).

What you should do about it: Instead of buying bottled water, carry a stainless-steel reusable bottle. Use canvas tote bags when you shop, and frequent restaurants that use biodegradable or recycled containers, or have them package your food in your own containers.

5. Snorkeling


OK, observing the ocean isn't inherently bad for it, but if you stand on a reef to get a better look at that parrot fish, for example, you damage the reef. And because the ocean's acidification level is rising at unprecedented rates, it will be that much harder for the reef to bounce back. So you know that old hikers' saying of "leaving only footprints"? Not when snorkeling.

What you should do about it: This one's easy -- look, but don't touch.

6. Using sunscreen


There's no such thing as waterproof sunscreen. And using sunscreen incorrectly -- slathering it on and immediately jumping into the ocean -- will wash it off and send it into the waters. Scientists have recently found that a common chemical used in cosmetics and sunscreens, benzophenone-2 (which blocks ultraviolet rays), can cause corals to bleach, change their DNA, and kill young coral.

What you should do about it: Use these tips on sunscreen application. A golf ball-sized amount is a good measure, every 2 hours, and after you sweat a lot or swim. In addition to sunscreen, wear a hat at the beach, sit under an umbrella, and recycle those plastic sunscreen bottles when you're done.

7. Beach combing


When you take a shell away from the beach, you have a nice keepsake to glue to a picture frame or put on a necklace. But when millions of tourists do it with you, the ecosystem suffers. Beaches can erode and biodiversity drops when the crabs, small fish, and algae that depend on the shells leave or die.

What you should do about it: Leave them alone. Also, join a local beach cleanup to pick out the cigarette butts, food wrappers, and other trash from the shells so that animals pick the right thing to live on.

8. Stopping at this article


We're grateful you've made it to the bottom of the article, but merely reading something on the Internet isn’t enough to help the oceans.

What you should do about it: Be a slacktivist no more: Get involved with your community or jump into any of these national organizations or "voluntour" for your next vacation. Even buying merchandise from their stores supports them, so check out PangeaSeed for good art, or send an environmental nonprofit some money. Whatever you do, just remember that making even small decisions every day can add up to a big impact.

Dear John, We Need to Talk: Will You Commit to Our Oceans' Future?

Kumi Naidoo   |   May 27, 2014    9:18 PM ET

Dear John,

It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter. I know you share both my love for the oceans and the deep concern that our oceans are in trouble. But while we seem to be in full agreement about the need for urgent action to protect our oceans, I feel you're holding back from making a real commitment on the high seas.

It saddens me, that despite your considerable influence in the government, the United States continues to oppose an international agreement under the Law of the Sea Convention. This agreement would ensure global cooperation to protect marine life in international waters; without it, our oceans remain defenseless.


Throughout your time in the Senate I have watched with admiration as you fought for healthy oceans, and I cheer at your continuing, as Secretary of State, to list it as a major priority. Your government has been fighting on the front line for ocean protection, and the conference you are convening demonstrates that 'Our Oceans' are high on the US government's political agenda. You said recently, "Of course we need to have a global framework of some kind... by which people sign up and agree to cooperate," and that "the United Nations is the obvious one within which to try to arrive at an understanding of how we're going to preserve this." But something, somewhere, is going wrong: I cannot understand why the US government continues to oppose the development of a global framework to ensure high seas protection at the United Nations.

I am sure you are aware that at the same time as the "Our Ocean" conference is happening in Washington DC, delegates from many of the world's governments will be meeting at the United Nations in New York to discuss the development of an international agreement under the Law of the Sea Convention. The large majority of the world's governments support a decision by the UN General Assembly to launch negotiations, with the notable exception of your own, as well as Russia and Japan to name a couple more. This lack of support seems entirely disconnected from what you've been saying about our oceans being too important to ignore.

With more than half of our oceans lying beyond the authority of any one country, a global protection framework is essential, as you've said, to safeguard the health of the oceans and enable the implementation of important tools such as environmental impact assessments and marine reserves. A network of marine reserves, that are areas strictly protected from extractive activities such as fishing and mining is recognized as one of the most powerful solutions to protecting the underwater world from multiple impacts, as well as building resilience against the impacts of ever-worsening climate change. I am sure you'll agree that improved implementation of the existing rules and agreements is simply not enough. Only through a global agreement and joint action will we be able to tackle the multiple threats facing the high seas today and in the future.

"Our Ocean," your own conference, would be the perfect opportunity for you to signal the United States' leadership on oceans issues: by supporting the launch of a high seas biodiversity agreement by the UN General Assembly. This is well in line with the position your government has taken with respect to other UN agreements and a logical extension of your continued efforts to put in place effective protection for high seas areas in the Antarctic and the Arctic.

As you and I both know, our journey towards proper ocean protection is going to be a choppy one. We will need to involve a wide range of players from the business world, fishermen, consumers, governments, local communities and civil society. But like you, I am also optimistic that with the right solutions in place we can make a difference. I strongly hope that support for this agreement will be one of the many successes to come out of the "Our Ocean" conference. A new high seas agreement could really help us turn the corner, and secure a better future... for "Our Oceans."

With great hope and in solidarity for the ocean,

Kumi Naidoo

KEN KAYE   |   January 1, 2014    8:00 AM ET

Researchers are looking to the sun to give hunted and overfished sharks a new ray of hope.

Using a special solar-powered tag, marine scientists now can study a shark's movements for up to two years by way of data beamed to satellites. Previously, researchers relied on tags that ran on batteries and sometimes died before all the information could be transmitted.

The new tags are like "a smartphone for marine animals," said Marco Flagg, CEO of Desert Star, a Marina, Calif., company that offers the solar devices. "Just like smartphones, the tags have many sensors and communication capability."

The Guy Harvey Research Institute, based in Dania Beach, Florida, is looking to use the solar tags to track certain species of the fierce fish, including tigers, makos, hammerheads, oceanic white tip and sand sharks. The goal is to better understand their migratory patterns and ultimately keep their population healthy.

Sharks are critical to the overall balance of ocean ecosystems, but commercial fisherman catch them by the millions for their fins, cartilage and meat.

"We've learned a lot from tagging sharks, not least of which is that they are highly migratory," said Antonio Fins, executive director of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, which supports the institute. "They are not American sharks or Bahamian sharks or Mexican sharks. They don't know borders or nationalities."

About 40 research agencies already use solar tags, which were put on the market two years ago. For instance, the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences studies a variety of sharks, while others use them to track turtles and marine mammals that spend time in the sun.

The overall success of solar tags has yet to be proven because of their relatively limited use. But so far marine researchers have encountered no serious problems, and a growing number of agencies plan to purchase them, manufactures said.

By drawing on solar energy, the tags ensure power is available to beam to a satellite a range of data, including how deep the fish go and the water temperatures they encounter. That information is then transmitted to researchers.

Because most sharks don't linger near the surface -- in direct sunlight -- the solar-powered tags are programmed to collect data for about six months while running on conventional batteries. Then the tags detach and float to the surface, said Mahmood Shivji, director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute, part of Nova Southeastern University.

"Now it's exposed to sunlight," Shivji said, "and it's been archiving data for six months."

Technically called "pop-up archival satellite tags," the devices can gather an enormous amount of information, so much that batteries alone would die before all the data is transmitted, Shivji said.

"If you have a solar panel, in theory, that tag should be able to transmit 100 percent of its data," he said.

Solar powered or not, tags already have provided researchers with detailed information on the migratory patterns and daily habits of different fish.

From tracking several sharks around the world, "we've discovered remarkable data on the behavior of these animals in terms of their movement horizontally as well as vertically," Shivji said. or 561-243-6530. ___

Janie Campbell   |   October 3, 2013    3:31 PM ET

"Personally, I'm extremely frustrated," Margaret Miller told The Huffington Post. "Because Congress isn't capable of doing their jobs, I get prevented from doing mine."

Miller is one Miamian affected by the federal government shutdown. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ecologist, she studies and surveys endangered elkhorn corals from the agency's labs on Virginia Key.

The work is essential to ecosystems and economies in South Florida and beyond. "Over the last 10,000 years, elkhorn coral has been one of the three most important Caribbean corals contributing to reef growth and development," the NOAA website explains.

But since 1980, 90 to 95 percent of elkhorn coral has disappeared.

"Populations have collapsed from disease outbreaks with losses compounded locally by hurricanes, increased predation, bleaching, elevated temperatures and other factors," according to the website.

The mandate to study endangered species is a federal one, however, and Miller is a federal employee. Though the rest of her research team could theoretically continue working -- they are University of Miami employees and students paid by a federal grant under a previous budget -- rules of the shutdown deny them access to NOAA's labs, boats, computers and equipment.

Miller's group not only surveys elkhorn's current population but studies its resilience and restoration possibilities. They were in the midst of a survey of 300 tagged colonies in the field, part of observation that has happened three times a year since 2004, when they were forced by the shutdown to abandon their work. "A lot of the important stuff government does as science is long-term evaluation," she explained.

The damage to in-progress testing and research will depend on how long the shutdown lasts.

"A day or two just causes a lot of inefficiencies, but long-term there's a lot of consequences ... Some of it is just delayed, and some of it is more serious," Miller said.

"On the internal side, your agency understands that we know we have a gap in the data because we couldn't help it. But when you go to publish that work or submit to reviewers or publishers, it's no good. And that's where scientists are really put in a bind by this situation: Scientific implementation is curtailed and it jeopardizes long-term data sets."

NOAA's Miami labs also are focused on endangered sea turtles and mammals, fish populations and ecology, the health of local estuaries, and more.

Research that factors into the larger Everglades restoration plan also has been halted; one team was set to sample mangroves in a nearby estuary during the first two weeks of October as it has for 15 years. Missing such seasonal windows, Miller said, "is a real impairment of our scientific endeavor."

Divers Witness 'Sex On The Reef'

Vanessa Martin   |   August 29, 2013    3:48 PM ET

Divers in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary witnessed one of nature's rare underwater spectacles Monday night off of Key Largo: coral sex.

The exquisitely timed natural phenomenon known as coral spawning occurs only once a year after the full moons of August or September, but it is essential to the continued survival of our coral reefs.

Coral spawning is the reproductive process of coral colonies and many species of coral polyps, in which millions of the organism’s reproductive cells, called gametes, are simultaneously released en masse into the surrounding water.

"It's like a snowstorm with gravity reversed and the snowflakes are miniature peas," underwater photographer Chris Gug told The Associated Press. "It's one of the marvels of the natural world." Check it out:

Once dispersed, the egg and sperm cells unite and form larvae, some of which rises to the ocean surface where they free-float for days or weeks at a time. According to a release from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, other larvae descend to the sea floor where they settle and grow into polyps, potentially forming new coral colonies.

This is good news for the life aquatic, considering a report by an international group of scientists recently concluded that coral reef growth, especially in shallow water like offshore South Florida, has declined by as much as 70 percent.

keys coral spawn

SUZETTE LABOY   |   August 17, 2013   12:03 AM ET

ISLAMORADA, Fla. -- Sharks abound in the waters off Florida. But not on this day at this particular spot off the Keys as some `young scientists' are on watch for them.

About a dozen high school students – guests of the University of Miami's marine research program – went aboard the vessel Curt-A-Sea. Their mission: to help scientists capture sharks, measure them, take blood and conduct other tests before tagging them so they can be tracked. The sharks would then be released back into the ocean.

Shark Series Part 2

SidneyAnne Stone   |   July 31, 2013   10:21 AM ET

If you are not familiar with shark finning, it is a brutal process in which the shark's fin is removed for the purpose of making shark fin soup. The shark is then thrown back into the water where he/she is unable to swim and drowns to death. For a graphic clip of an actual occurrence of shark finning, click here. It is my hope that after viewing this clip you will want to join the fight to protect sharks.

Many in the ocean conservation community know what a problem shark finning is and what a threat it poses to the environment. Further, any major disruption to our ecosystem stands to threaten our entire existence. Much like the butterfly effect, when you kill a shark, you just don't know what kind of impact that can have on our environment. By eliminating an apex predator, you set off a chain of dominoes and there is no telling where they may stop. The amount of gross overfishing that has occurred in recent years may have already caused enough damage to cause certain species to become extinct in our lifetime. Organizations like Oceana allow you to log on and make your opinions known about the practice of shark finning.

Just last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill banning the trade of shark fins in the state of New York. While shark finning was already illegal in waters off New York, this also makes it illegal to trade shark fins in the state -- further enforcing New York's intolerance for the practice. Governor Cuomo stated, "Not only is the process inhumane, but it also affects the natural balance of the oceanic ecosystem." As my readers know, I am always a proud New Yorker but particularly at moments like these. Unfortunately, New York is in the minority on this issue so speak up and write to your local representatives, senators, Congress and governor and advocate for the environment that we all share!

Matt Rutherford's Mission to Make Ocean Research Affordable

Lesleyann Coker   |   May 21, 2013    2:27 PM ET

In 2012, Matt Rutherford became the first person to solo circumnavigate North and South America. He completed the non-stop 27,000 mile journey in 10 months in a tiny, old sailboat.

During the course of his epic journey, the then 31-year-old capsized in the Arctic battling waves, avoided being smashed by a tanker and navigated a maze of icebergs large and small. In South America, he experienced Cape Horn's famous beauty and cruel winds. He also faced the literal doldrums - areas near the equator without any wind. And all while spending more than 300 days in complete solitude.

Politicians monitored his progress, and a documentary for the Sundance Film Festival is in the works.

Now the ambitious sailor has launched a non-profit company, Ocean Research Project, which aims to identify new, lower-cost methods of conducting ocean research.

At the beginning of May, he set sail on his latest adventure in the Atlantic. Before his departure from St. Katharine docks in London, he spoke to Lesleyann Coker.

In 2012, you became the first person to solo circumnavigate the Americas and the Northwest Passage. What motivated you to attempt such a journey?

It all started as a fundraiser for a local Annapolis-based non-profit called C.R.A.B [Chesapeake Regional Assessable Boating]. At this point I've raised over $120,000 for the non-profit by doing the trip. I'm also a great admirer of [Ernest] Shackleton, and his story inspired me to try something that most people thought was impossible.

How did you get started in sailing?

I bought a little 25-foot boat from the '60s back in 2004 and sailed it from the Chesapeake Bay to the Florida Keys. I knew nothing about sailing when I left. I made every mistake possible, but over time I taught myself the skills necessary to cross oceans, and eventually, sail around the Americas.

What's your connection to Senator Tom Harkin and Governor Martin O'Malley?

Martin's wife, Katie, saw me off the dock the day before I left and I've been invited to their house several times since my return. Tom spoke about me on the floor of the Senate after I passed Cape Horn. He has shown an avid interest in my story. Tom Harkin is an old school Democrat who understands how important it is to reach across the aisle. He will be missed [after he retires next year], especially on environmental issues.

2013-05-20-IMG_1766.JPGThe Sailing Channel has produced a documentary about you, Red Dot in the Ocean. What's its status?

It looks like we may get into Sundance if it's done in time. Nothing is guaranteed. They approached me to make a documentary, and after a month of "contract negotiations'" we started the film. Here's the trailer.

You recently founded a new 501c non-profit called Ocean Research, which aims to dramatically lower the cost of conducting ocean research. What are the typical costs of ocean research, and what will be your costs? How will you approach the problem differently?

The typical running costs for scientific research in the open ocean is between $6,000 and $15,000 a day, depending on the organization. With Ocean Research Project, for our first expedition we have a daily running cost of $73 a day.

We're living in a changing economic environment; you can no longer think big boats, big crew, big budget. Instead, a non-profit should think small boat, small crew, small budget. By doing this, you not only reduce the cost of the expedition, but also the overhead.

All too often when $100 is donated to a non-profit, $90 goes to salary, renting office space, paying the electric bill, etc. With Ocean Research Project, the majority of the funds raised go to the mission.

What will be the implication of reducing the cost of ocean research? More research? Why is ocean research important?

Once you have reduced the cost of the expeditions, you can travel farther for longer and collect more data. There's still a prehistoric way of thinking within much of the general scientific community. Too many scientists think the organization that spends the most money or has the biggest research vessel somehow collects the best data.

The reality of the matter is that by working with universities and bringing along one or two scientists who bring their own equipment and are trained to use them properly, you can collect a wide variety of important data about our changing oceans. It's true, we cannot have submarines and helicopters, but most research is done by equipment that can be installed or carried onboard a 40-50 foot sailboat.

Ocean research is important because we are all affected by the ocean no matter where you live. The ocean not only produces food for 25 percent of the world's population, but also produces between 50-75 percent of the world's oxygen through Phytoplankton, which lives in the ocean. The problem is the ocean is not part of any country, and it's out of sight out of mind.

There has not been enough research done within the open ocean because in the past scientists have tried to collect important data with big boats and big budgets. I sailed 27,000 miles, over the top of Canada and around Cape Horn on a 27-foot boat without stopping. I can tell you from experience you do not need a 150-foot, two million dollar boat to cross an ocean or do good research.

You're about to embark on a research mission [he embarked the first week of May]. Where are you going, what are you researching, and what do you expect to learn?

MR: During our first expedition we will be at sea for 75 days collecting data, while sailing 6,500 miles of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Atlantic Ocean is home to the Atlantic Garbage Patch and coincides with one of the five major oceanic gyres. The Sargasso Sea Gyre is a huge spiral of seawater formed by colliding currents. Most offshore sailors have seen floating junk on the high seas, but it's a problem that has not been thoroughly explored in the mid-Atlantic. It's the poster child for one of the worldwide ocean problems: plastic that's initially created with human hands, then ends up in the ocean, often found inside animals' stomachs.

We have several objectives for this expedition:

We'll conduct a Sargasso Sea marine debris reconnaissance survey using standardized data collection methods. This study will add to the global understanding of quantity of marine debris in the gyre and will stimulate awareness of the consequences of manmade debris. This project is run in collaboration with our Partner 5 Gyres.

We'll conduct ocean acidification data collection to supplement existing efforts to portray the acidity condition within a gyre in an open ocean marine debris laden environment. This data may reveal a significant concentration of high acidic marine water that may jeopardize the livelihood of critical marine life.

The vessel will act as a mobile observing platform reporting atmospheric and oceanic observations to NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]. It serves as a voluntary observing ship to feed international atmospheric and oceanic modeling databases that depict global weather forecasts, climate studies, and support mariners' safety at sea. Work will be in cooperation with our partners which include NOAA's Voluntary Observing Ship, the Ship of Opportunity Program and the Atlantic Oceanic and Meteorological Laboratory.

What are the dangers involved in this research project?

There is always danger in the vast open ocean. That said, reward lives in the house of risk.

I can teach a person the skills necessary to cross an ocean alone, but I can't teach the mentality a person needs to sail alone across an ocean. Either you've got it or you don't. If you don't learn to control fear, fear will control you.

Exploration is the physical expression of intellectual passion.

How can people follow the progress of your journey, or support your non-profit?

You can follow the expedition at There will be a tracking device on the boat so you can see our position, and a weekly blog so you can hear the story as it's happening. You can also donate on the website.

Photo Credit; Matt Rutherford

Want to Save Starving Sea Lion Pups? Here's How

Megan Pincus Kajitani   |   March 18, 2013   11:26 AM ET

Tears streamed down my 7-year-old daughter's face this cloudy, March morning, as we watched the plight of a lone female California sea lion pup, clearly exhausted, struggling to keep her head above water and get herself to our local beach's jetty.

This sea lion was not the strong, plump and playful sort we had seen in years past. She was so small, kept going under, then her head would barely rise above the water.

We gasped as the pup used the last of her strength to slowly hoist herself onto the jetty, right before another wave came. She made it. We saw her heave a sigh as she collapsed onto a large rock, safe from the water below.

She tried, but could not lift her head, and just laid still and panting. Her bones jutted out, every vertebra and her pelvis visible underneath her brown fur. She looked too young to be without a mother, and she was clearly malnourished.

The Sea Lions' Struggle

Unfortunately, this struggling sea lion is not alone in this heartbreaking condition, which is part of why my own tears came along with my daughter's.

In our city of Carlsbad, Calif., just up the coast from downtown San Diego, at least 40 malnourished, young California sea lions have been rescued since January. According to a local news story, about 150 malnourished or injured sea lions are typically rescued in our region each year -- but this year, from Jan. 1 to not even mid-March, there have already been 130 rescued.

This morning when we called the local sea animal rescue center about the stranded pup, their voicemail said they are extremely busy. A spokesperson from there told the local news that there's "something going on out in the ocean" in relation to our sea lions' food supply. Clearly.

The Bigger Picture

But here's the thing: This isn't just a local issue, and it isn't just about this specific group of sea lions' food supply.

Something is going on with all marine mammals' food supply. Something major is happening with all of our ocean ecosystems. These malnourished pups are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Dr. Bruce Monger, an oceanographer at Cornell University, told my class in eCornell's Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate Program that we as a society have "maxed out the ocean."

He says 75 percent of all major fisheries in the world are currently either fully exploited or over-exploited, and we have less than 10 percent of the top ocean predators (e.g., swordfish or bluefin tuna) today than we had in the 1960s. These fish aren't replaceable, friends.

Many marine scientists believe that, at the rate we're going, the seas will be barren by 2048. (Did you get that? No sea life in 35 years!)

Like the roaming plains buffalo shot by humans to extinction, Dr. Monger says, we can extract every single animal out of the ocean. And with commercial fisheries not just taking all the fish but also seabirds, sharks, dolphins, turtles and every other kind of sea animal (most thrown out by the trawlers, dead, as "bycatch"), we are doing just that.

The sea lions of the Pacific Rim and Alaska are now endangered because, Dr. Monger explains, fishing "took away all their food, and they are starving to death." I contacted Dr. Monger this week and asked him about the California sea lions: Are they next?

He told me scientists are studying two main factors likely causing the crisis with this species: overfishing and climate issues. But, clearly, he said, "the sea lion pups are probably starving because their mothers are starving." Clearly.

You Can Help Save Them

So, here's the other thing: You can actually do something to stop this ocean crisis, whether you live here on the coast, in the middle of farmland or on a mountaintop. We all can.

I get that it's hard, I'm a former sushi lover myself, but we must stop eating fish. There simply are not enough fish left to keep them on our plates, and still leave enough to keep our ocean animals alive. Period.

I've heard all the justifications, and my replies go something like this:

  • You can still do your sushi ritual, just do it with veggies instead of fish (as my half-Japanese, sushi-loving husband and I now happily do).
  • Farmed fisheries are no better, with incredibly high rates of disease, which is unhealthy, inhumane and harms wild fish as well.
  • Eating land animal meat is also harming the oceans, by the way. An amazing fifty percent of the world's fish catch is fed to industrial farm animals, not to people (as Dr. Will Tuttle explains in The World Peace Diet). And nitrogen runoff from those factory farms is creating huge "dead zones" where no sea life can survive.

    The good news is that pleasurable, healthy, social eating is possible with plant-based food. It just takes making the choice -- to help animals rather than eat them.

    Actually, Dr. Monger believes it's both personal choice and political will that will save or destroy our oceans: Beyond urging us to avoid eating fish and other meat, he urges us to speak out against the government subsidies that fuel overfishing.

    "The fish in the ocean are as much yours as the fishing industries', and if you would rather see your fish left in the ocean, you have the right to speak up and ask your leaders to help," he says. "If you remain silent about it, someone is going to step in and take [your ocean life] away from you for their own profit."

    The Next Generations

    This morning, my sniffling 7-year-old asked me why the malnourished sea lion we watched could not find food.

    As fishing boats trawled closer to shore than I've ever seen them, I wanted to tell her that the sea lion and her brothers and sisters will find food. That they have plenty of food to find. That the ocean is ripe with life.

    But, the truth is, I can't tell her that, because as each day passes, it is becoming less true.

    I told my daughter instead that we can make a difference for that sea lion by calling the rescue center to help her. And on a bigger scale, we can make a difference for all sea lions, by not eating their food and by educating others about their dwindling food supply.

    Through her tears, my daughter asked me if I could educate more people today.

    So, I'm writing this piece today for my daughter, for the sea lions and all the animals, and for the future. Before it's too late -- at the very least -- please do your part to save our ocean animals by letting the fish be food for them, and not for you.

    Janie Campbell   |   December 15, 2012    7:55 AM ET

    Some people say -- and they make a good case -- that to understand Miami you have to understand the forces and influences of the drug trade, money, and Cuban immigration.

    Or you can look at the corals, according to Colin Foord and Jared McKay, the UM-trained marine biologist and experimental musician who form the scientific artist duo Coral Morphologic.

    The pair tie their work, which involves not only growing but filming and soundtracking corals in their glowing Overtown aquaculture lab, to Miami's distinction as the only mainland U.S. city on a coral reef, with corals even growing inside the city limits.

    You might even blame the tropical polyps for those vibrant "I'm In Miami, Bitch" tank tops.

    "There aren't any other life forms on the planet that are as natural fluorescent as living corals; this is something that wasn't even really observable by mankind until 50 years ago," Foord told HuffPost. "The colors of Miami -- these bright neon colors -- have always been the essence of the city before the city was even here. The cement in the buildings is made from the ground-up skeletons of fossilized coral. The colorful essence is literally built into the city."

    Colonies of corals, Foord says, also reflect who we are as a 21st century metro. It's a concept he and McKay have highlighted by projecting them onto South Beach buildings during Art Basel, onto AmericanAirlines Arena, and during festivals in Britain, Sundance, and Miami's own Borscht Film Festival. Saturday night at Borscht 8, they'll debut a new work called "Fungia."

    Their "scientific and artistic exploration of living coral reef organisms... radiated the most beautiful and unexpected work I saw," wrote curator Patterson Sims, the man behind four Whitney Biennial exhibitions, after an arts tour of Miami in April.

    (Story continues below.)

    By using their carefully tended, DIY aquariums to both create and fund their art -- a side business selling cloned corals to aquarium owners helps keep the lab lights on and the artists and animals in constant symbiosis -- the pair not only highlight the Magic City's incredibly rich and unique makeup, but draw multiple parallels between reefs and humanity.

    "We really see corals as futuristic organisms," Foord explains. "They're very modern. We live in a time when the world that you're born into is totally different than you die in; it necessitates that you're constantly adapting to technology. It's a changing world and the actual biosphere is also now changing more than ever. Being that they're cemented in place, [adapting] is just what corals have been doing for millions and millions of years."

    But our corals point not only to Miami's past and present, but future.

    "If given the chance -- if sea levels are to rise -- the corals will happily move back into the city and start growing on our infrastructure," Foord said. "We already know they're growing inside the city limits on our trash. This is the flip side of projecting onto buildings. Miami has always been an ephemeral place: it's underwater, it's out of the water, it's underwater, it's out of the water.

    "Anyone who thinks the sea level rising washing South Beach back into the ocean is a terrible environmental catastrophe is misinformed about the very nature of South Beach as a real estate scheme to begin with. It's another side of the story of climate change and human interactions with the planet that every time there's a catastrophe there's an opportunity for life to take advantage of new real estate to colonize."

    How is it possible two middle school best friends from New Hampshire know Miami better than most Miamians do? Foord moved to the Magic City to study marine biology at UM, then McKay came down to start Coral Morphologic in 2007. Relative newness didn't stop them both from becoming instrumental in pushing Miami culture forward. They've helped nurture Wynwood's arts scene, started a record label, and discovered four new species of zoanthids, confirmed by DNA testing and published in the Journal of Marine Biology.

    Next year, they'll install a Knight Foundation-funded aquascape video project at Miami International Airport and plan to start on a full-length Imax-style film.

    "Coming in as outsiders, we maybe have a more objective perception of what's really happening here, what has happened, and what is likely to continue to happen in the future," Foord said. "At the same time, our whole perception of Miami has been shaped by our friends, artists and musicians who have grown up here that have really tuned us into a lot of things that someone from outside Miami would have a very hard time engaging with as far as a 'real' Miami.

    "Without the arts scene and without all these artists and amazing people that Miami is blessed with, I don't think we'd have ended up on this track. We're definitely a product of our environment here."

    What Happens Underwater During a Hurricane?

    Janie Campbell   |   November 2, 2012   11:38 AM ET

    By Brian McNoldy, University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

    We think we’re pretty familiar with hurricanes – strong winds, storm surge, flooding rains, ominous satellite images from space, and radar loops when they get near land. But what goes on at and below the ocean’s surface when a hurricane passes overhead? Quite a lot, actually!

    Effects on the ocean properties

    The upper levels of the ocean are typically strongly stratified by temperature and by salinity. That is, colder, saltier water lies below the warmer, fresher water near the surface. When a hurricane comes by, it mixes everything up, resulting in a muddled and more homogeneous upper ocean. That means the surface water is cooler and saltier than it was previously was, and deeper water is warmer and less salty than it previously was. However, in very shallow coastal areas, the copious amount of fresh cold rain water from the hurricane can actually reduce the temperature and salinity of the near-surface water.

    Time series of the vertical profile of temperature and salinity from the ocean’s surface down to 200m, and spanning one day prior to the hurricane’s passage through 2.5 days after the passage. The dramatic mixing down to approximately 150m is evident. Time in days relative to the passage is listed along the horizontal axis. This particular case is from Hurricane Frances (2004) on 1 September. (Sanford et al., 2007)

    The colder surface water upwelled by the hurricane can actually be a fairly significant player in controlling the hurricane’s intensity. A strong slow-moving hurricane will upwell cold water much more effectively than a weaker and/or fast-moving hurricane. And since hurricanes require warm ocean water to fuel their “engine”, that upwelling can end up weakening the storm. The trail of upwelled cooler water left behind a storm is called a “cold wake”, and shows up clearly on maps of sea surface temperature.

    Map of sea surface temperature before (left) and after (right) Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Isabel’s track from the eastern Atlantic all the way into the mid-Atlantic coast is evident by the cold wake left behind. (NASA/GSFC)

    Intense hurricanes can generate 60′+ waves, and at the ocean surface, the boundary between the water and the air becomes nebulous. Amidst the formidable waves, sea spray and foam streak horizontally across the surface at high speed, blurring the view of the ocean’s surface in this photo from an aircraft flying through a hurricane.

    Photo of the sea state under Category 4 Hurricane Isabel taken from 400 feet above the surface. Note that the aircraft was not in or near the eyewall at this time or altitude. (Will Drennan, RSMAS)

    But below the ocean’s surface, the currents and turbulence beneath those waves can also be quite destructive. Unlike places above the surface, the ocean doesn’t “forget” about the storm very quickly… strong currents and turbulence have been known to exist up to a week after the storm passes overhead. Damaging currents can extend down to at least 300 feet below the surface, capable of dismantling coral reefs, relocating ship wrecks, breaking oil pipelines, and displacing huge volumes of sand on the seabed.

    Simplified schematic showing the parts of an ocean wave. At the surface, there are crests and troughs. Crests are separated by a wavelength. The depth to which a wave’s effects can be felt depends on the wavelength and wave height.

    Effects on marine life

    Some studies conducted in the Caribbean Sea have shown that in the year following a hurricane, coral cover is reduced by 15-20 percent (more or less, depending on the intensity of the hurricane) in the affected areas. There are several factors that go into the negative effect on coral: 1) the turbulent water breaks it, 2) the days of muddied water reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the algae in coral tissue, 3) the fine suspended particles clog the pores, and 4) the tremendous amount of rain reduces the salinity of the shallow ocean in the immediate area which can stress coral.

    Large self-propelled marine animals such as sharks seem to be minimally affected, since they can detect tiny changes in pressure as larger waves at the surface approach, as well as the reduced surface pressure associated with the storm itself, and go deeper or leave the area. However, hurricanes have been known to result in tremendous numbers of dead fish, crabs, sea turtles, oysters, etc due to reduced amounts of dissolved oxygen in the water, rapid salinity changes, and violent surf.

    Just like us up here on the surface, marine life suffers for months to several years from the death and destruction following a hurricane.

    Brian McNoldy
    Senior Research Associate
    University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
    Author of Tropical Atlantic Update
    Follow Brian on Twitter: @BMcNoldy

    (Flickr photo via Surf Cabo)