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Damon Beres   |   August 25, 2015    9:51 AM ET

In 2020, the Pacific Ocean might actually start to get a bit cleaner.

That's the hope of The Ocean Cleanup, an organization that on Sunday completed a reconnaissance mission geared toward measuring the amount of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Researchers used GPS and a smartphone app to detect pollution during the monthlong mission.

"I've never seen an oceanic area as polluted as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch," Julia Reisser, the group's lead oceanographer, said during a press conference in San Francisco.

Mounting garbage has been a tremendous problem for the world's oceans. Currently, coastal countries add 8 million tons of plastic to our oceans every year, and the rate is accelerating -- in part because many more people are now able to actually afford plastic products. 

The Ocean Cleanup's so-called Mega Expedition, which was funded in part by tech entrepreneur Marc Benioff, found that some of the plastic in the Pacific had been there since the 1950s. Fish can become contaminated when they eat plastic, so you can imagine why getting rid of the garbage is of urgent ecological concern.

To that end, the Ocean Cleanup group hopes to deploy a 60-mile-long barrier in the middle of the Pacific to trap the garbage and make it easier to dispose of responsibly. They'll publish the findings of their expedition next year and get to work on a 1-mile prototype first, according to the Associated Press.

Of course, cleaning the ocean is only part of the battle. Sustainable solutions are required to actually prevent the problem from getting worse. 

Still, it's a start. Boyan Slat, founder of The Ocean Cleanup, made that clear during the press conference.

"With a single system, in 10 years time, approximately half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can be cleaned up," Slat said.

Fishackathon: Techies Join the Fight to Save Our Seas

Bren Smith   |   June 5, 2015    7:27 AM ET

Fish stocks are in massive global decline; invasive species are decimating entire ecosystems; human rights violations have been tied directly to illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. This is just a sample of the problems being presented at the second annual 2015 Fishackathon, the world's largest hackathon supporting our oceans, its fisheries and the livelihoods that depend on them.

Our goal is to celebrate World Oceans Day with a solution-based approach to saving our sea by bringing together online developers and sustainable fishing advocates to create tech-based tools to support ocean conservation, fisheries management, traceability and sustainable aquaculture.

Last year's Fishackathon surpassed expectations. What began as a small one-time experiment grew into a global phenomenon hosted by our NGO, GreenWave, the U.S. Department of State, and partners in cities around the world. After a 24-hour sleepless marathon, tech teams emerged with cutting edge solutions. For example, one team designed a mobile app for small-scale fishers' to report illegal fishing by using their phones to automatically dispatch drones to snap photos of ships trawling in protected zones.

Building on last year's success, the 2015 Fishackathon has expanded its reach to include over 15 cities with teams in Asia, Europe, and North and South America. And supporting organizations have expanded to the World Wildlife Fund, NOAA, USAID, The Nature Conservancy, a global network of aquariums and the EPA.

The technologies created during the Fishackathon will be judged by a panel of experts and the top three will be award prizes. More importantly, the resulting technologies will be further developed and applied globally to solve the on-going fishery problems.

According to Brendan Coffey, GreenWave Deputy Director and lead organizer of the Fishackathon, "Technology has changed the face of society everywhere we look. Now's the time to bring this spirit of innovation to save our seas. The guiding principle of the Fishackathon is the belief that building a cross-cutting coalition of techies, scientists, and ocean advocates will spawn new solutions."

Speedboats and Turtles Equal a Deadly Combination

Georgianne Nienaber   |   April 7, 2015    2:58 PM ET

Beach goers on Sanibel Island, Florida have been shocked to find five dead loggerhead turtles stranded on the shore within five weeks. On Good Friday the latest victim of a boat collision washed ashore with extensive prop and skeg wounds in its carapace (shell). Sea turtles are sometimes called "living dinosaurs," and have been around for over 90 million years, but are now considered endangered. They are marine reptiles with a low reproductive rate and high vulnerability to predation. Like many animals on the planet, sea turtles are also falling victim to human activity on the world's oceans.

The Good Friday Loggerhead. Notice no decomposition around eyes. This appears to be a "fresh" kill (Photo: Nienaber)

Sanibel's beaches are a prime nesting ground for the loggerhead (Caretta, caretta), and in the months from March to May their vulnerability to speedboats increases. The turtles gather in shallow waters during the breeding season and lumber ashore from May to August to lay nests of a hundred or more eggs that hatch by October. Sanibel has done a good job regulating beach lighting during this time, but no one seems to have addressed the issue of speeding boats.

"Throughout the state's waters, collisions with boats are the most common identifiable cause of trauma in sea turtles that wash up dead on Florida beaches," according to the website of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC).

Prop and skeg wounds

In an extensive database FWC documents sea turtle deaths, injuries and illnesses from 1980 to 2013. The data are organized by year, county, species and month. The data source is the shared FWC, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, and Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network Data Base.

Taking a look at Lee County, where Sanibel Island is located, provides some fodder for consideration.

From 2010 to 2013 deaths increased in Lee County from 64 to 97 individuals a year for all species of sea turtles, and 24 to 36 for the loggerhead. 2013, the last year for which data is available, saw a stunning 21 casualties from March through May. This is prime breeding season. Every nest, every egg, is critical to the survival of the species.

Boat registrations have also gone up exponentially in Florida.


In a wide ranging conversation Allen Foley, Wildlife Biologist at FWC, said it is "a safe bet" in the case of turtles found dead onshore with prop damage, that a boat collision is the cause of death. They are hit when still alive. "There is no other smoking gun," such as toxin screens which would negatively influence mobility or behavior.

FWC is in the process of publishing a paper which confirms the causality between boat collisions and turtle deaths.

Other studies also support more than a coincidence and indicate a direct correlation with speedboat activity immediately offshore and turtle deaths.

In a 2008 paper examining diving behavior of the turtles in nesting areas, researchers discovered that boat strike injuries TRIPLED in Florida from 1980-2008. Trend data was obtained from the Florida Sea Turtle Stranding Network.

Using four years of satellite telemetry data, the study determined that turtles are "most vulnerable to boat strikes between 8 AM and 12 noon" on the day before and following nesting activity. The study did not look at breeding activity, but Good Friday's damaged turtle certainly fits the time criteria for vulnerability. On that day there was increased boat and tourist activity just outside the buoys marking shallow water.

Florida's waters are not alone in experiencing this environmental catastrophe.

The Galapagos Marine Reserve is a supporting case. Tourism in Galapagos has increased to more than 180,000 visitors a year, according to a 2011 study, and "the boat traffic within the Marine Reserve poses a significant risk to sea turtles."

Boat strikes were most frequent at foraging sites close to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, a commercial and tourism port, where incidence varied between 16 and 20 percent. However, at the nesting beaches most of the impacts (59 percent) had occurred during the same nesting season while only 5 percent of the sea turtles observed at the foraging sites suffered their injuries during the study period. No data on survival rates from boat strike exist, however it is clear that many turtles die from the trauma caused by the impact. This report focuses on only the survivors; therefore the results represent a minimum estimate.

In another study out of Australia, the obvious conclusion was reached that the proportion of turtles that fled to avoid boats decreased significantly as vessel speed increased. "Turtles that fled from moderate and fast approaches did so at significantly shorter distances from the vessel than turtles that fled from slow approaches."

Sometimes the obvious needs science to confirm what the eyes see and what intuition suggests.

The most recent research on collisions used actual dead turtles and fake shell models, adding to the mounting evidence about boat culpability.

The conclusions were what one would expect.

The experiments investigated the severity of damage inflicted on full-scale model loggerhead sea turtles struck by small vessels and, "artificial carapaces (shells) were developed to mimic selected material properties of a natural loggerhead carapace."

The model turtles were subjected to impact by small (3-6 m) vessels with traditional outboard, jet outboard and inboard jet propulsion systems.

Results indicated that vessel speed "significantly influences the likelihood of catastrophic damage, whereas depth in the water column does not." Jet propulsion did not impact any of the test models.

And so we return to our unfortunate Good Friday loggerhead.

What can be done? Sanibel Island is known as a wildlife sanctuary and this sanctuary should extend offshore to marine life. No wake zones protect manatees. Why have wake and/or reduced speed zones not been extended to the sea turtle?


If it were not for the large numbers of beach goers on Good Friday, the longshore current may have carried our unfortunate loggerhead away, with the cause of injuries lost to time and tides. The horror and sadness of the beach goers as witnesses to this senseless loss of an endangered species was evident.

It is well past time for law enforcement to enact legislation to limit excessive speed and large vessels in sea turtle breeding waters.

Biologist Foley suggests that one solution might be a voluntary initiative which limits boat activity in breeding grounds up to a kilometer offshore. This initiative would also protect kayakers, swimmers and paddle boarders who share these same waters.

Q&A: 'My Country Will Not Go Down Without a Fight'

Anna Shen   |   September 30, 2014    4:31 PM ET

Palau is small, but its plans are big. President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. has colossal plans for his small island nation of 21,000 people. By creating the world's largest marine sanctuary -- the size of France -- he has deemed Palau's waters to be 80 percent protected. His goal: a no fishing zone which will "let the ocean heal" after decades of commercial fishing and poaching that has critically depleted the oceans. He hopes other countries will follow suit.

For decades, President Remengesau, who comes from a family of fishermen himself, witnessed the impacts of illegal, unregulated fishing, pollution, coastal runoff and other stressors. He feared for the future of the islands and culture, and most important the future of his children.

Not preserving the seas would be a crime, considering that Palau is home to some of the world's most scenic islands, lakes, and reefs in the world and contains some of the planet's greatest biodiversity, including 1,300 species of fish and 700 species of coral.

The President's ambitions have caught the attention of the international community; he recently met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss his conservation efforts, and this month he was awarded the Inspiring Conservation Award in New York by Rare, a Washington, DC-based organization that trains local leaders in over 50 countries to be environmental stewards.

Brett Jenks, CEO and President of Rare, said that, "Conservation is in Palau's DNA and in the blood of President Remengesau. Now he is setting an example for his peers. Rare is proud to have helped for the past two decades to build a constituency for conservation in Palau. We are pleased to see Palau not only being successful at home but becoming a beacon of hope for other nations."

During his visit to New York for the opening of the General Assembly at the United Nations, President Remengesau discussed his efforts to create this special zone with Anna Shen.

What prompted you to create the world's largest marine sanctuary?

As a fisherman, there was a time when I saw great stocks of fish, both inside and outside our reefs. On any given day, I could choose which fish to take. Now that is not the case. The fish stocks are smaller, both in terms of schools and number of fish. Our current course is definitely not sustainable. Conservation is in my blood, and in our blood as Palauans. We are born and raised and taught to conserve and always think about tomorrow.

I became alarmed at the rate of harvesting and how illegal poachers came not just for fish. The degradation that I saw inspired me to go beyond protecting the coral reefs, because we witnessed tons and tons of shark fins that were also being harvested by fishing vessels. We were given the excuse that that they were bycatch and unintentional catches. We saw turtles and dolphins being caught; these were not authorized catches.

In addition, Palau is famous for giant clams that are one hundred years old. The poachers would just take the clam's muscle because it is a delicacy in Asia. What I saw could not be sustained and it was depleting our resources much faster than what nature could keep up with. Over a period of years it became too obvious that unless something meaningful was done, we would find ourselves without food security. We would be affected as a people and our growing tourism industry would be impacted.

You once said that your forefathers did not know about science but they understood that people's health and prosperity fell and rose with the tides. Can you explain more?

When resources became scarce, my forefathers would declare a "Bul." Today, we might call this a moratorium. During this time, reefs would be deemed off limits during spawning and feeding periods so that the ecosystem could replenish itself. Certain areas, like Ngirukuwid, were given permanent protection because of their important biodiversity.

My goal was not conservation for its own sake, but to restore the balance between people and nature. The best science now confirms that our ancient approach to managing the oceans was sound.

This traditional ethos of the "Bul" is now enshrined in Palauan law: Article 6 of Palau's Constitution requires Palau's government to "take positive action" to conserve "a beautiful, healthful and resourceful natural environment."

Can you tell me about the process of creating the sanctuary?

Before we came up with the current plan, we wanted support in the region. This was an important starting point. We launched something called the Micronesian Challenge, which was a commitment by the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. We were hoping our neighbors would then look at Micronesian reef as a total ocean.

The challenge was to preserve the natural resources that are crucial to the survival of Pacific traditions, cultures and livelihood, and to effectively conserve at least 30 percent of the near shore marine resources and 20 percent of the terrestrial resources across Micronesia by 2020.

We knew that from traditional practices and knowledge that if you are going to preserve a reef, if you took a third of that and put it into a conservation area, this would help to prolong the richness of that reef area. Fish would be self-nurturing, and they would rebirth the reef. This would become a safe haven for them.

We then went out and looked for partners. Initial funding commitments, which required matching dollars, were originally made by The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International. The Global Environmental Facility, which is an international financing organization that addresses environmental issues, then made available the necessary 2-to-1 matching funding. With this generous funding assistance, we have already reached our 2020 targets.

When we saw our success, we decided to expand our concept of marine protection to our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends 200 miles from our shores and thereby creates the largest marine sanctuary in the world. Within this zone, we plan to have a no-take zone in over 80 percent of the EEZ while we reserve 20 percent for local fisherman and domestic fisherman, which will support our eco-tourism industry, which already provides Palau with 50 percent of its revenues. The no-take zone is approximately 500,000 square kilometers, roughly the size of France, or the state of Texas. Nobody has done this before. Some countries have limited specific marine areas but no country has protected its entire EEZ from foreign commercial fishing.

Were there any roadblocks when you created the zone?

There was resistance at first but mostly from commercial interests who didn't want their access limited. In the beginning, some Chinese poachers came to fish on the near shore coral reefs and we had police officers confront them. Most of them fled, but one Chinese fisherman died. In our effort to search for the mother ship, two of our officers and one pilot were never found.

As for local opposition, there were some doubters in the beginning. However, our success is that as a community we have a grass roots-driven culture, and this is in our way of life. After a while the detractors gave up after they saw the success of what we were doing.

How did you and your team accomplish this all by yourself?

Actually we did not. Other organizations -- foundations, NGOs, conservation organizations, civic groups -- they all play a role and are important partners because they have the technology and the information and research as to how programs are benefitting the communities that come up with sanctuaries. They also know how to implement systems to help other populations of tuna or other migratory fish. They also understand the values of ecotourism. We cannot simply be concerned that others are just locking up the seas but we must also find other sources of income such as ecotourism, or catch and release programs, or scuba diving. These are other activities that give people jobs and other economic opportunities.

Rare will play an expanding role though its unique focus on community involvement, participation and understanding.

One thing to note: We are missing the point if we simply declare that we have a marine sanctuary in Palau and that it is the only one of its kind. We need partners to say that this is a good thing. We need developed countries, financial institutions, and foundations to look at this and support it from different angles.

For example, we have a partnership that helps provide revenue-generating activity for citizens so that people do not have to fish for a living. We also need help with surveillance and marine enforcement -- maybe a drone, boats or technology that other countries have. We need partners to show us how to enforce these laws so we can remain a success story. For example, the U.S. Department of Defense has command centers with GPS and other technology that can tell you what is out there in the oceans. We only have two or three ships to monitor the area. The poachers will still use any opportunity to poach and we have to come out there all the time to watch.

How is climate change impacting the oceans?

The oceans are being affected by the impacts of climate change. You add acidification and coral bleaching and you can imagine the great stress factors affecting the reefs. We are seeing rising sea levels and erosion of soil -- some of our islands have been totally engulfed and people have had to relocate to higher ground. In the case of Palau, the islands are getting smaller in size, and this is affecting our neighborhoods and farms. We have had our share of typhoons and storms in the last year. We have brought these issues to the United Nations. They work to increase the fragile standard of living for our people, but then one typhoon can set us back for years. Vulnerability is a threat.

What are the qualities of leadership needed to impact the oceans?

We have to stop thinking only of our self-centered interests and think of future generations and what they will have to live with. We must look beyond our daily activities as humans and think of the long term to make a difference.

We hope we will be a case study. We want others to know you don't have to open the whole ocean to commercial fishing but if you conserve a portion of it, that sanctuary can do a lot of good to repopulate the other areas where there is fishing. We are happy that the U.S. is promoting conservation of at least ten percent of the world's oceans as announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

But doesn't the country lose out because they won't generate revenue from commercial fishing activity?

Well, there won't be any more fish to catch if we keep at it. In addition, we lose revenue from things like ecotourism if we ruin our oceans. We are a renowned scuba diving destination. We have done research - in fact, a live shark is worth almost two million dollars over its 70 or 80-year lifetime. This is research we conducted with the University of Guam and our Palau International Coral Reef Center.

Were there any moments of insight?

After we launched the Micronesian Challenge, others launched challenges to protect their oceans -- the Caribbean, Indonesia, Kiribati, the Cook Islands, New Caledonia, and other places. This is something we are proud of. If we can do it, they can too but just it takes the political will and justification to do it.

Upwells of Life and Oil; a Unique Partnership Between the Sea and Steel

Amber Jackson   |   September 30, 2014   12:29 PM ET


Spring is a season when new life is replenished and although this productivity is obvious on land, the ocean, with it's seemingly unchanging surface, is also privy to this season. Especially off the coast of California, where the winds and deep underwater canyons provide the perfect conditions for upwelling. In fact, coastal upwelling regions, accounting for less than 1% of the ocean surface, contribute roughly 50% of the worlds fishing landings (NOAA).

Before I go into detail on upwelling, it is important to first address the wind. Winds create a powerful and direct effect on the oceans and are an important force in creating currents. From the global circulation of entire ocean systems to small eddies nearshore, winds move water and its resident animals and plants in complex and interesting patterns.

In the spring, the warm winds from the north blow parallel to the coastline towards southern California. When this occurs, an intriguing and biologically important event takes places. Affected by the rotation of the earth, these winds move water at right angles to the direction the wind is blowing, a phenomenon known as the Coriolis effect. Along the California coastline, winds that blow from the north drive surface waters offshore. As surface waters are pushed offshore, water is drawn from below to replace them. The upward movement of this deep, colder water is called upwelling.

Upwelling brings cold, nutrient-rich waters to the surface, which encourages the growth of large blooms of phytoplankton. The phytoplankton blooms form the ultimate energy base for large animal populations higher in the food chain, such as tuna, seabass, and even large marine mammals, like whales. Although an impressive biological event, this is not the only major consequence of upwelling because upwelling also affects animal movement. Upwelling moves nearshore surface water offshore, and takes with it water is floating in the water column, such as larval young produced by most marine fish and invertebrates. These larval young are tiny, ranging from microscopic to the size of a potato chip, and they spend the first few weeks or months of life adrift in the water column. Upwelling that moves surface water offshore can potentially move drifting larvae long distances away from their natural habitat, to shelters such as a nearby oil and gas platform.

This past spring, Emily and I experienced the plethora of larval young swarming around California's offshore oil and gas platforms. Although we focused our cameras on the anemone covered beams, or the seal lion curiously swimming by, when we revisited our footage after the dive we found that many of the photos had been "photobombed" larvae that landed on the lens! Even, when we exited the water, we noticed that our wetsuits were crawling with life. It was quite a shock to see thousands of tiny white shrimp and other larvae contrasted against our black wetsuits.

Upon further investigation, we found that offshore oil and gas platforms don't cause upwelling but rather they are a landing site for those larvae displaced by upwelling. In fact the vertical platform structures may actually cause a slight shift in current direction that mixes the surrounding ocean nutrients. This mixing, although small, provides the distribution of an important foundational food source for other, larger fish that call offshore oil and gas platforms home.

To learn more, visit our website, or follow us on Instagram @rig2reefexplorers.

One More Thing I Won't Eat (and Why)

Natasha Scripture   |   August 26, 2014    3:27 PM ET

"Fish is good for me!" I used to tell myself while eating some member of the seafood family, swallowing without sentiment. After all, fish is protein-rich, and they don't have feelings (or so I thought); they are slithery and furless, they don't fetch or meow, and they taste really good in tacos.

Besides, I'd already given up meat and poultry after I was bullied into becoming vegetarian nearly 20 years ago. It all transpired during a backpacking trip around Europe with my PETA activist friend from college. "Leather comes from cows," she informed me as I tried on the most perfect leather jacket at a boutique in Rome one afternoon, giddy with delight and twirling in the mirror as the sales clerk gasped in approval. "Sei bellissima!" he exclaimed. "Didn't you know they killed a cow to make that?" She countered, darkening the mood. I looked into her pleading, mad cow-like eyes, my conscience overpowering my vanity in the end. I returned from that trip not only jacket-less, but without having sampled the most talked about culinary delights of Europe -- prosciutto, coq au vin, and schnitzel -- simply because they were meat-based. In fact, all I had to show for that trip was a nose piercing.

Truth be told, I eschewed meat from that point on and never looked back. And over the last two decades, I've dithered between veganism and vegetarianism, eventually incorporating small amounts of fish into my diet because I was informed that, as a vegetarian, I was "likely protein-deprived." Industry propaganda has long over-stretched the claim that there's a dearth of protein sources for non-meat eaters, but that's simply not true (I've never been anemic). True, I have felt sleepy sometimes, but that's due to something called "lack of sleep." Admittedly, I was an irresponsible vegetarian when I was younger, subsisting on mainly bagels, falafel, and dirty martinis just because I didn't know any better. In any case, I grew to enjoy eating fish on occasion - and the best part is that I didn't feel like I was doing anything morally wrong by eating the occasional Dover Sole - it wasn't like I was consuming meat from one of those horrific factory farms in the Midwest! Besides, I convinced myself that by dining on fish I was helping sustain the livelihood of some cute, little hard-working fisherman wearing a straw hat somewhere tropical.

But those were the good old days, when I was living in blissful ignorance - basically, until just last week. Before I was enlightened by Mission Blue, the new Netflix documentary directed by Fisher Stevens (The Cove) and Bob Nixon (Gorillas in the Mist) on the state of the ocean, the commercial fishing industry, and the legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle - a feisty 78-year-old eco-activist whose admirable efforts to save the ocean over the last several decades have been recognized by the likes of President Barack Obama. I was reviewing the film for TED, who awarded Earle with the TED Prize in 2009 to help her campaign to create "hope spots," underwater areas so critical to the health of the ocean that they need to be protected by law. I'd been looking forward to the seeing the film, but I was blown away by how much I didn't know - or had avoided knowing.

Love tuna? Well, it's pretty much extinct thanks to the insatiable human appetite for sushi. Scared of sharks? No problem, we've killed almost all of them. Of course, I don't live under a rock. I knew that the practice of shark-finning was brutal and problematic, but I didn't know that with only 10% of sharks left, we've seriously compromised our entire ecosystem. I knew that the seas were being overfished - due to modern, environmentally-catastrophic and wasteful fishing methods like bottom trawling - but to what extent, I didn't know. "Overfishing - it's an amazing phenomenon. Who would have ever thought that people would be able to fish so efficiently and so effectively...that we would reduce the stocks of these species that were present by the billions to the point of obliteration or near obliteration," says Jeremy Jackson of the Smithsonian Institution, one ocean activist interviewed in the film. "We've done it to Atlantic tuna, we've done it to sharks, we've done it to cod, we've done it to halibut, to anchovies, to sardines...We've done it to just about every damn thing you would ever want to eat," says Jackson. There are less than 5% left of many of these fish in most cases. This would explain why we have 50% fewer coral reefs than we did in 1950. "The ocean is dying," says Earle, and our biggest problem right now is our own ignorance.

Perhaps some of you knew all of this, but did you know that, mercury poisoning aside, a diet of carnivorous animals, such as carnivorous fish, is not what our bodies function best on? "There's no question that a plant-based diet is better for you and better for the planet," says Earle, one of the most eminent biologists in the world. "If you ask me, the best thing is a plant-based diet, or largely plant-based diet with small amounts of meat coming from plant-eating animals. We have all the nutrition that we require, available to us through plants," she adds.

That means, if you're eating Halibut, not only are you ingesting an old piece of meat (it takes years for many of the fish we like to eat to mature), but it will likely be full of the toxins we've dumped into the ocean and, by eating a carnivorous fish, you're electing to obtain nutrition many layers removed from the source that best serves us (plants!) Culinary tastes aside, why eat a fish that eats a fish that eats a fish, rather than going straight to the source itself? And guess what? Fish don't even make omega-3 fatty acids themselves, so you can easily buy the plant-based supplement and have a clean conscience instead of purchasing fish oil. Earle broke it all down for me in this eye-opening interview here.

I've been on such a rampage about this over the last few days, beckoning my friends to watch Mission Blue and urging virtually anyone I meet to reconsider allowing fish to be a part of their diet. Yesterday, I caught myself eyeing my weight-conscious colleague - who sits caddy-corner to me - poking at a container of sashimi, and I had the sudden urge to go over to her and enlighten her. Is that pink pile of tuna worth the demise of the ocean? I don't want to be that person, but I also don't want to be the person who does nothing.

Feeling frustrated by what I felt was indifference around this issue, I called my dear journalist friend to vent. Why am I so emotional about this? Is it because I'm a water sign? He sensed I was in need of more ammunition and thus drew my attention to several recent newspaper articles and UN reports that had in fact drawn a direct link between piracy in Somalia and foreign commercial fishing! Turns out, a lack of government protection of Somalia's natural resources has failed to prevent the illegal and unregulated exploitation of its waters by foreign fishing vessels. These ships have reportedly been destroying the nets of local Somali fisherman and denying them access to fishing grounds making it difficult for them to earn an honest living. As a result, many are driven to take up piracy because it pays better than fishing -and it's sadly one of the few ways of making a living in Somalia. Estimates for how much Somali piracy has cost the global economy range from $7 billion to $18 billion. So here was another reinforcement for my plea - there's even a significant geopolitical argument to stop eating fish!

Oh and as for fish not having personalities, I was lying to myself. Earle, who has spent upwards of 7,000 hours underwater in her lifetime, can attest to this. "If you're sharp enough to distinguish one [fish] from another you soon begin to see that they behave differently. If that's personality, which I guess it is, each one has its own little quirks," she says. I recall a video my brother, a freelance wildlife producer for Discovery Channel, once showed me years ago. It was of a non-descript shrimp he filmed on a trip to Australia. As I watched the puny gray thing moving in what seemed like slow-motion for several minutes- my patience being tried - I eventually noticed that he was exhibiting human-like qualities, annoyance in particular, as my brother repeatedly popped a bit of seaweed into the shrimp's habitat whilst he was taking the pains to clear it out. I was stunned to discover that those little bottom-feeders - which happen to taste so scrumptious deep-fried - have personalities! But I don't think I really allowed myself to process that information until now.

I know how you feel - one more thing we can't eat. For a moment, I thought - I gave up chicken tikka masala, my favorite dish, years ago and now I have to give up fish? Though I've never looked at a vegetarian diet as a deprivation of sorts. It's easy these days; with a little bit of imagination, it can be flavorful and varied. While I swore I'd never become like my PETA friend, accosting people with my views on meat consumption, what I'm really saying here is: inform yourself and then decide. Watch Mission Blue and be mindful about your choices, even if it means just cutting back.

Because eating meat, whether we're talking seafood or burgers, Earle reminds us, is a choice for most of us. And if you can choose something that's better for you and better for the planet - one that's already threatened by overpopulation, a scarcity of resources, the extinction of vital species, global warming, and ozone layer depletion - then why on earth wouldn't you?

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