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Tag Archives: marine biology

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Volunteering in Marine Conservation – Sea Turtles, Seals and Horseshoe Crabs

Frank Indiviglio with nesting Leatherback TurtleHello, Frank Indiviglio here. Today I’d like to highlight some simple ways that you can become involved in hands-on research with marine animals. Next time we’ll take a look at programs designed for people interested in fishes.

Sea Turtle Research in Costa Rica

The Caribbean Conservation Corporation, founded in 1959 by legendary turtle biologist Archie Carr, was the world’s first marine turtle protection organization. Promoting conservation through research, and political advocacy, CCC is based in Florida, and its primary field station is nestled between rainforest and sea at Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica. Volunteer researchers have always figured prominently in the group’s work, and today a number of interesting opportunities are available.

Sea Turtles, Jaguars and Frogs … My Experience with CCC

My first field trip to Tortuguero, working with green turtles and 1,500 pound leatherbacks, hooked me for life. I and other researchers tagged and measured turtles, counted eggs, and monitored nests.

I also participated in studies focusing on the area’s 300+ bird species and was lucky enough to see kinkajous, caimans, ocelots, tapirs, jaguar tracks (overlapping my own!), arboreal tarantulas, strawberry poison frogs and a host of other incredible animals.

Working with Seals

Frank Indiviglio with baby leatherback turtlesSeals of several species are becoming increasingly common in coastal urban areas, where they face threats from boat collisions, harassment and pollution-related diseases. The Seal Conservation Society maintains a comprehensive list of organizations that assist injured seals and provides information for those interested in becoming wildlife rehabilitators, beach monitors or “seal watch” tour leaders.

Untrained people should not approach seals – injured animals and females returning from hunting to claim their pups can be extremely dangerous. In the USA, sick or harassed seals can be reported to the local police or the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s 24 hour emergency hotline: 800-853-1964.

Helping a Living Fossil

Most people do not realize that no intravenous drug produced in the USA reaches the market without first having been tested with a chemical produced by an ocean-dwelling relative of the spiders.

Compounds within the blood of the horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) far surpass synthetics in detecting drug impurities. Biomedical companies draw blood from millions of these ancient (as in “unchanged for over 200 million years”!) creatures yearly. Although horseshoe crabs harvested for blood samples are released, coastal development and collection for the bait trade has caused US populations to plummet.

Based in the Northeastern USA, Project Limulus relies upon volunteers to monitor over 5,000 spawning horseshoe crabs each spring in an effort to help formulate conservation strategies.

Over 17,000 horseshoe crabs have been tagged by US Geological Service volunteers working along the Delaware Bay. Their work seeks to assist both horseshoe crabs and a shorebird known as the red knot. Undertaking one of the longest known bird migrations (Argentina to the Arctic), red knots somehow time a stopover on their trip to coincide with the spawning of the Delaware Bay horseshoe crab population. Red knots rely upon horseshoe crab eggs to fuel the last leg of their amazing journey, and have suffered massive declines since this food source has become scarce.

Further Reading

Please see my article Hands on Experiences in Sea Turtle Conservation for further information on working in Tortuguero, Costa Rica.

Well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg…please write in if you are interested in other research opportunities. I’ll cover fish-oriented programs in the future. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

Marine Biology in the News: Famed Oceanographer Jacques Piccard Dies

Eileen here. The oceanographic and scientific community lost one of its pioneers this past weekend with the death of a renowned Swiss oceanographer, Jacques Piccard. Piccard was one of the first deep-sea explorers and, along with Lt. Don Walsh from the United States Navy, reached a greater depth than any other scientist.

Jacques Piccard had science and discovery in his genes from birth. His father, uncle and aunt were revolutionary aeronauts and balloonists who helped the scientific community understand jet streams and atmospheric currents. Jacques’s own son is continuing this family tradition and completed a trip around the world in a balloon using his grandfather’s knowledge of the air current and his father’s research of deep-sea currents as inspiration.

Jacques Piccard is most famous for his 1960 dive into the Mariana Trench with Lt. Walsh. The Mariana Trench is located near Guam in the Pacific Ocean. It is the deepest point in the oceans known to man and Piccard’s dive went to about 35,797 ft below the surface to reach the bottom of part of the trench. Piccard is quoted as saying one of the most surprising parts of the 20-minute dive was the life discovered there, life that many marine biologists said could not possibly survive because of the extreme pressure at that depth. The submarine used for the dive reportedly started leaking during the dive and cut the trip even shorter than planned. That submarine, the Trieste, was eventually retired and inspired other naval research submarines as Piccard continued his research with the Untied States Navy until a few years ago. Piccard was 86 years old when he passed away on Saturday.

Read more about Jacques Piccard:

Until next time,

Spongeblog Squarepants

I would like to welcome another guest blogger to That Fish Blog, Desiree Leonard. Desiree is an Assistant Manager in the fish room here at That Fish Place, as well as one of our Staff Marine Biologist. I hope that you enjoy the information that she is blogging about, as well as her sense of humor.
Sponges: Beyond Spongebob.

Sponges are animals? Believe it or don’t. Most of us are familiar with the dried colorless varieties that populate the kitchens and bathrooms of the world, or worse, the cellulose fakers that our children believe dwell in pineapples at the bottom of the ocean. But that’s not what sponges are at all. To me, they are some of the most fascinating and fun sea creatures. Fun? Well, they may not actually do anything, but in the home aquarium, they are “fun” in the aspect that they are beautiful and challenging to keep. They are remarkably adaptive, and if purchased healthy many not only survive in reef tanks, but can grow well and reproduce.

“Sponge” refers to the animals classified in the phylum Porifera; which means loosely “bearer of pores”. The first type of sponges that most aquarists encounter in their aquariums belong to the class Calcarea. These little guys are the tiny little sponges you’ll find in your sump, on the standpipes, and bopping around in the bio-tower or skimmer output. They are about the size of a large grain of rice with a fine, funnel-like extension at one end. They don’t hurt anything, so if you are new at this, don’t be alarmed.

Those sponges most commonly sold in the trade as ornamental sponges belong to the class Demospongiae. They are variable in form and color – from branching blue to orange paddles, to yellow or red balls. Others in this group that are not sold, but most reefers see in their aquarium are amorphous, encrusting species in colors of white, yellow, pink or black.

Sponges are one of the most primitive animals in the sea, yet are far more complex than most hobbyists are aware. All sponges differ from other marine invertebrates in that they have no true tissues or organs. Their structure is made up of silica based spicules and/or collagenous spongin. Most sponges are constant filter feeders with little need for lighting. To feed, sponges pump an incredible amount of water through their bodies. The uni-directional flow allows the sponge to absorb fine food particles (most not larger than 1.5 micron!) and release wastes back into the water column. It’s nutrition by diffusion, Cool Thing #1! As the sponge grows, it will modify its surface and cavities to optimize the water flow around and through it. For this reason, once a sponge settles in a spot in your aquarium, it is best not to move it.

Not all sponges are obligate filter feeders. There is a group of calcareous sponges, like my current favorite, the blue finger sponge, which are moderately photosynthetic (due to symbiotic cyanobacteria) as well as filter feeders. Use high light, high water flow, and don’t forget your calcium!

A note about purchasing sponges; Do not ever EVER remove them from the water. If you remove them, air bubbles become trapped in the body cavities and there is no way to purge the air so those cells will die. When buying, look for uniformity, no transparent or fuzzy spots. Don’t buy sponges with necrotic tissue, unless you are brave and willing to eat the cost, as many retailers will not guarantee sponges. If the sponge is new, and it was exposed in shipping, it may not show dead tissue for a while. If after a few days you see some of your new sponge dying, just cut off the bad spot. Sponges have remarkable regenerative abilities due to Cool Thing #2: Totipotent Cells. Think Stem Cells. These cells can revert to any type of cell needed to ensure the regeneration of the sponge.

I feel I should include Cool Thing #3 even though it’s not really related to the hobby but it’s cool nonetheless: Sponges are one of the most chemically rich resources identified to date. They’re packed full of biochemicals that are currently the basis of the majority of new pharmaceutical research. Products from anti-inflamitories to anti-cancer agents have been derived from sponges. But that’s a different blog.
I hope I’ve manage to convince you of the hidden charm and FUN of poriferans, and I encourage aquarists who want to attempt keeping sponges to research them further and to go ahead and try them out!

Very cool article, thanks Dez.
See you next blog.

Guest Blog: Diving in Honduras

That Fish Blog is proud to introduce our first guest blogger; Melissa Leiter. Melissa is one of our staff Marine Biologists, as well as being an avid aquarium hobbyist. Melissa is also a Fish Room Supervisor in our Lancaster, PA retail store.

Welcome Melissa.

If you are looking for a one of a kind vacation and are scuba certified, Roatan, Honduras is a place you really should consider. I had the opportunity to take a summer class offered through Millersville University in Roatan, Honduras. It was a very intense 3 week class but I learned so much and had a blast all at the same time. It was really nice to be able to see many of the fish that we sell at That Fish Place in their natural environment swimming around so gracefully.

The corals themselves were an amazing sight to see. The reef structure in itself was more than I could have ever imagined. We did many dives to observe the reef, paying close attention to detail so that we would be able to identify a variety of corals learning their common name as well as scientific name.

We had the opportunity to do two night dives to observe the night life on the reef. We descended into the warm darkness right around sunset. The reef is a totally different world when surrounded by darkness. Stoplight parrotfish, Sparisoma viride could be seen in a mucous cocoon and most of the fish that were out and about during the day were totally out of sight, hidden in crevices for protection from the creatures that roam in the night. Octopus and cuttlefish were out scouring for food as well as large spiny lobsters and spider crabs. Basket stars, Astrophyton muricatum, were also abundant with their arms outstretched collecting plankton as it drifted by. At random times throughout our night dives we took a few minutes to “feed the corals” where we held our dive lights to a coral and all the plankton swarmed to the light and became coral food. The pillar coral, Dendrogyra cylindrus was a favorite to feed with its polyps extending and retracting continuously.

One of the last things we did before our ascent to the surface was to gather together on the sandy bottom and turned out our lights for a few minutes. Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness the bioluminescence came into view. If you waved your arms that was enough to agitate the critters that store the bioluminescence and you could see a faint light coming out of the pitch black . Another spectacular sight were “string of pearls”. “String of pearls” are ostracods, which are tiny crustaceans that are scurrying about. These tiny crustations attract mates along the same lines as fireflies do flashing their bioluminenscence, each species with a slightly different pattern. They lit up the dark with flashes of light all strung together like fireflies dancing through the sky.

While my diving at the reef has come to an end for this trip the memories I have gathered will remain with me for many years to come. Maybe if more people we able to see the reef first hand they would want to do all they could to save it for future generations. The ocean truly is a world of its own.


Marine Biologist Blog from That Fish Place

Welcome to the Marine Biologist blog from That Fish Place. Join us as we blog about the amazing world of fish and aquarium keeping, Post your comments, request a topic, add to the discussion.
Since our start in 1973, That Fish Place has seen the aquarium hobby grow in popularity and evolve into an amazing blend of science, nature and technology. Our Marine Biologists blog may cover any topic that relates to the hobby, and will hopefully help whoever reads this blog to become a more successful aquarium keeper, whatever you fancy.