Basic information about reef habitats and other reef dynamics, from the essentials of water to the importance of mangroves.

To Define Plankton, Think: “Ocean Food Bank”

THE PLANKTON IS ONE OF THE KEYSTONES OF THE OCEAN FOOD CHAIN. In fact, it’s one of the most important elements of life in the sea. And, yet, every time I mention the word, seek to talk about plankton, discuss plankton, define plankton, I can hear eyes roll all across Planet Earth. True, plankton doesn’t have the same excitement attached to it as, say, a celebrity punching a shark on You-Know-What Week. On the other hand,

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Species Names: Why the Scientific Naming System Matters

THE COMMON DOLPHIN COULD BE THE POSTER FISH FOR THE SCIENTIFIC SYSTEM OF SPECIES NAMES. Yep, poster fish, not one of the 40 or so species of the charismatic marine mammals. This one’s definitely a fish, despite its common name. The fishy dolphin is shaped vaguely like a baseball bat with a long dorsal fin and a dour expression. Found in open waters around the world, it’s regarded as a good sport fish, as a

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Rats and Reefs: What Happens On Land Doesn’t Stay On Land

A NEWLY PUBLISHED STUDY ON THE LINK BETWEEN RATS AND REEFS has found a substantial link to the health of the coral reefs in the waters around the islands.  The reason: Seabird poop on land is good for a broad range of reef denizens underwater. And the rats kill off seabirds, whose guano provides nutrients that enhance the reef’s health. An international team of scientists studied the ecosystems of rat-infested and rat-free islands in the Chagos

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Parrotfish Beaks Are Really, Really Strong

CORAL REEFS ARE DYNAMIC EQUATIONS, CONSTANTLY BEING BUILT UP AND TORN DOWN. The stony corals and the coralline algae mostly do the building. Major factors in the tearing-down side are parrotfish. And, especially, the teeth in parrotfish beaks. Parrotfish don’t set out to tear down coral. As herbivores, they focus on eating the algae that live on the surfaces of coral polyps’ calcium carbonate exoskeletons, or corallites. And they work at this pretty continuously, scraping

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The Plankton: The Soup of Life

NOBODY GOES UNDERWATER TO LOOK AT THE PLANKTON.  Well, actually, corals, gorgonians, sea anemones, baleen whales, whale sharks, sponges, brittlestars, a lot of kinds of fish and many other denizens of the deep do. But divers fixated on large, celebrity species like sharks and mantas may find omni-present microscopic organisms they can’t particularly see less than engrossing. They’re missing an enormous point. To the aforementioned denizens, the plankton are the staff of life, the dinner

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The Specifics of Species – By the Numbers

1)   THE GENERAL DEFINITION OF SPECIES IS THAT THEY ARE GROUPS OF ORGANISMS that are like each other and can produce offspring with the same traits. While member of a species can sometimes produce hybrid offspring with another species, those offspring should not be able to reproduce.  2)   Within each species of gene-directed traits, there are inevitably genetic variations that favor some as environments change and work against others. As succeeding generations adapt to these changing circumstances,

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OCEAN FOOD CHAIN: What Eats What, Way Down Below

ONCE THOUGHT TO BE A SPARSELY INHABITED ENVIRONMENT, the ocean’s deep waters – at least within the California Current off central California – are actually a highly active habitat of predators like squids, sea jellies and other creatures, according to a study by researchers at the Monteray Bay Aquarium Research Institute, based in Moss Landing, CA. They published their study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, described the work in a more reader-friendly

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Six Ways in Which Algae is Our Friend

ALGAE COMES IN EIGHT GAZILLION DIFFERENT FORMS, from tiny little slimy green stuff to giant kelp, and to most of us it seems obnoxious and a thing to be ignored, if not despised. Except that algae is the foundation of the food chain, a pioneer in the evolution of life, and essential to our existence.  Algae uses sunlight to photosynthesize the carbon dioxide and hydrogen in water into the simple sugars that are nutrients for

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In the Mangrove Grove

THREE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT MANGROVE FORESTS: 1) They aren’t swamps. They grow in shallow ocean waters along tropical coasts, surviving tidal fluctuations and thriving on the edge between land and sea.  2) Mangrove trees generate the freshwater they need for survival by using a variety of mechanisms to filter the salt out of the ocean water.  3) They’re essential parts of reef systems, key to the reef life. ABOVE AND BELOW    Above water,

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Understanding Water – By the Numbers

1)   WATER IS ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT SUBSTANCES ON OUR PLANET. All but three percent of it is contained in the oceans, which cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface. They’re home to some 97 percent of the earth’s biomass – overwhelmingly represented in microscopic organisms. 2)   Water is wet because its molecular structure of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms creates weak positive-negative bonding, making water molecules just strong enough – and

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