Members of Walking Fish in NC pick up their share, photo by author
Fisheries had their ups and downs in the US in 2012. We’ve all heard the stories of overfishing, but there were also a few glimmers of hope as the New England cod fishery proposed to open previously closed areas, the Chesapeake oysters showed slight recovery, and MSC certification expanded and became more popular. News on the social side of the fishery – the fishermen and their families – is not as prevalent outside the small towns where they live. However, some of the most exciting developments happened on this front, starting with official community supported fisheries declaring themselves here to stay. They held a successful summit in New Hampshire this past July, placing them more in the public eye than ever before.
Today marks the first Tsukiji fish market tuna auction of 2013, and, as in the previous two years, the first fish sold broke all previous records. In 2011, the record breaking tuna sold for $396,000. Last year, we tipped the scales at $736,000. Early this morning, the record breaking bluefin tuna blew the previous records out of the water, fetching a whopping $1,800,000 at the auction block, making this 488-lb tuna the most expensive fish ever purchased.
Over the next few weeks, I’m certain that we’ll see this number presented as an argument against bluefin tuna fishing, as an example of an industry out-of-control, and as a symbol of how ruthlessly we’ll hunt the last few members of a species to put on our dinner plates. These issues are reflected in the tuna market, but I want to urge caution in drawing too many conclusions from this record breaking number.
Technology in water? That seems a bit counter-intuitive doesn’t it? Well, Dr. Kersey Sturdivant, during his undergraduate and graduate years, denied the golden rule of electronics and submerged a video camera under water. But this is not your typical Canon Powershot D10.
As much as I love thumbing through magazines and flipping page after page of vibrant underwater pictures of colorful flora and fauna, WormCam skips the excess and gets right to the bottom. Literally.
The video camera, modified from your average security camera, is set at certain time intervals and takes still pictures, as opposed to recording a video, for technical reasons. WormCam unveils the under-sediment realm. The images are not of mystical jellyfish and elegant fish nor the teeming micro and macro-zooplankton; rather the camera captures worms, crabs, snails and all things benthic.
WormCam, a dense yet delicate technology, is encased within a waterproof, blade-shaped prism, which is attached to the side of a larger platform. The lead battery, also in a waterproof case, sits on top of the rectangular prism. Linking the two components together with a waterproof wire, WormCam is complete and ready to be deployed.
Back view of deployed WormCam. Photo by Lucy Ma
Depending on the depth of the water, WormCam can either be deployed by hand in shallow waters or by rope in deeper waters. When held horizontally, the prism, where the camera is housed, protrudes below the bottom of the platform. Strategically designed, WormCam inserts itself within the sediment like a spoon sinking into yogurt. The camera is then peeking halfway beneath and halfway above the sediment. Through the clear, plexi-glass window, the camera snaps images of the water-sediment interface.
Now, Dr. Sturdivant, other scientists and aspiring undergraduates can observe the happenings at the sediment-water interface for extended periods of time. You can too! Watch a movie from a WormCam deployed in the York River (if you look closely, the grooves in the sediments are worms wiggling around!).
But the seafloor is stereotypically dark and unattractive. Why is this important and why should we care?
Having the ability to observe sediment changes and sediment-organism interactions over time offers marine scientists an enormous advantage. For example, during eutrophication, the phytoplankton bloom is incredibly obvious, thanks to the single-celled organisms’ conspicuous chlorophyll. Studies have confirmed that fish and other organisms die because of the lack of oxygen, but what about the worms and other sea-dwelling creatures that live beneath our scope of vision? WormCam widens this limited scope. With WormCam, scientists can then begin to understand these silent creatures and their roles in the aquatic ecosystem. Bioturbation in a Declining Oxygen Environment, in situ Observations from WormCam offers more technical information on the application of WormCam.
Thus far, WormCam has been deployed off of the Chesapeake Bay, Gulf of Mexico and Pivers Island. Each location has offered a benthic perspective on what is happening on and beneath the seafloor in the least intrusive way as possible. For example, the deployed WormCam off of the Gulf of Mexico has facilitated scientists’ understanding of the effects of Deepwater Horizon oil spill on sediment and benthic organisms.
Currently, Dr. Sturdivant and I, one of the aspiring undergraduates, have deployed a WormCam off of Pivers Island. We want to understand how chemical cues from gastropods affect crustacean behavior as well as how the attracted crustaceans impact other species residing in the sediment. Some very interesting observations have been made, but there is more to come. It’s a good thing that WormCam has its very own twitter page. Follow @wormcam.
Lucy Ma is an undergraduate who participated in a blog writing workshop led by Andrew Thaler. She works with Dr. Sturdivant on WormCam.
I am, among other things, a conservation geneticist. What that means is that I use the tools of molecular ecology and population genetics to make observations about species and populations in at-risk ecosystems, assess the status of anthropogenically disturbed populations, and generate data that has direct applications to conservation and management issues. Essentially, the only difference between what I do and what a population geneticist or molecular ecologist does is the motivation—I select systems to work in that have a high conservation priority.
This motivation leads to a constant intellectual conflict at the bench. The tools of molecular ecology—PCR, gene sequencing, and, more frequently, high-throughput sequencing—are waste intensive. In order to avoid cross-contamination and practice precise, clean, technique, we use thousands of tiny plastic consumables every day. These come in the form of pipette tips, sterile packaging material, micro-centrifuge tubes, and numerous other plastic widgets. Often, because of the biohazard potential, these consumable cannot be recycled.
So we have a problem. As a conservation geneticist, we need these tools to produce the data necessary to make wise conservation and management decisions. As a sustainability minded individual, I find the massive daily accumulation of plastic waste inexcusable. Do we just accept this waste as the cost of conservation genetics? I believe that the answer is no. I think we can and should develop best practices to minimize the amount of plastic waste produced by a molecular lab while maintaining good, sterile technique. I would like to propose four guidelines, based off the principles of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, for minimizing waste in a conservation genetics lab.
Pharaoh Khufu must be rolling in his monumental grave. Since its construction in 2560 BC, the Great Pyramid of Giza stood as the largest man-made pyramid ever built*. For 3800 years, it held the title of the tallest man-made structure of any kind. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that our buildings began dwarfing this wonder of the ancient world. Even still, the Great Pyramid is massive, with a volume of 2,580,000 cubic meters. But there is another pyramid, more massive than Giza, and it wasn’t built to entomb a mighty king. It’s not a monument of any kind. The largest (by volume) pyramid in the world resides in Alberta, Canada and it’s made entirely of sulfur.
Say your local Lions Club wants to hold a focus group to determine what the community thinks would be the best way to direct community service efforts? What if you, as a blog writer, want to survey your readership about their demographics? What if the local food group wants to stand in front of a grocery store surveying people where they get their food from? What if an independent scholar wants to interview people for their next book? These are all real-world applications of social science that may have significant positive impacts to the community involved. But are they responsible to anyone for ethical behavior? Should they be? If they were University scholars, they’d be subject Institutional Review Board oversight. No IRB approval means no publishing and no funding.
Even in the university setting, what if a scholar decides to cross disciplines and use some social science methods? Are they subject ot IRB review? Say fisheries biologists want to interview fishers about their knowledge of fish stocks and aggregations or an agricultural extension agent wants to survey local farmers where they get their seed? The what-if’s could go on forever. And they are all in the ethical grey area.
Welcome to the world. I know it must feel like a very small world right now–just big enough to keep you safe and sheltered and loved–but trust me, as you keep growing, so will the world. Even after you stop growing, it will keep getting bigger. This big, old world that you have suddenly appeared in is huge and strange and beautiful and mysterious. There is more to discover in this world than all of us who have ever lived, working together, can ever know. Even before you can speak, you will think things and know things that no one has ever thought or known before. That is wonderful.
We are explorers. Not just your aunt and uncle, or your family, but all of us: this whole, gigantic group of people that call ourselves “humanity”. Today, there are over 7 billion of us and every last one, every person you will ever meet, can trace their heritage back, through thousands of millennia, to a small tribe of primates somewhere on the African savannah We were explorers then, too. This tribe made its way across Europe and Asia. They sailed across the Pacific to Australia and a thousand tiny islands. They marched across the Bering Sea–land once connected Alaska to Russia–and traveled all the way down to the tip of South America. And, no matter how far they traveled, no matter how much they explored, the world just kept getting bigger.
We’re still exploring, today. We’ve built an enormous machine called the Large Hadron Collider–some say it’s the most complicated machine humanity has ever built—that allows us to explore the tiniest things in the universe: the sub-atomic particles that hold our world (and every world) together. We’ve even begun to explore beyond our own world. We have massive telescopes that allow us to explore distant galaxies. We’ve built probes that have left our own solar system. We have satellites orbiting Jupiter and Saturn. This summer, we landed a robot on Mars. It has already discovered that Mars was once more like our own world than we previously believed. We named that robot “Curiosity”.
Since that post made its way across the internet, several people have asked me to discuss what adaptations Aquaman would need to survive in this, science-based, ocean. So I went back to my comic books and my textbooks to assemble an Aquaman with a suite of evolutionary adaptations that would allow a largely humanoid organism to rule the waves, trident triumphantly raised.
Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve taken to twitter to “live-tweet” the Scopes Monkey Trial, as it happens, 87 years after the event. Through the news reports of H.L. Mencken and several historical documents, I attempted to capture the atmosphere of 1925 Dayton, Tennessee, the tension of the trial, the exciting, and sometimes irreverent, nature of the proceedings.
Aquaman. DC Comics. A rational response to seal poaching is to lob a polar bear at the aggressors.
Aquaman may not be everybody’s favorite superhero, but since his creation in 1941, he has been among DC’s most enduring icons. During the Golden Age of comic books, he held his own against Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Silver Age Aquaman was a founding member of the Justice League. His powers, tied to the ocean, forced writers to create a compelling, complex hero with explicit limitations. In the early days, when Superman’s strength was practically infinite, and Batman’s brilliance was unmatched, Aquaman had to become more than just a superhero, he had to be a person.
If Superman existed to show us how high the human spirit could fly, and Batman to show us the darkness within even our most noble, Aquaman is here to show us the world that triumphs in our absence. The ocean is not ours, and no matter how great our technology, we will never master it as we have mastered land, but Aquaman has. Through this lonely ocean wanderer, we can experience a world that we can never truly command. In many ways, Aquaman was stronger than the Man of Steel and darker than the Dark Knight. He knew loneliness that the orphan and the alien exile never could.
Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean – roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin – his control
Stops with the shore; — upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, not does remain
A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
When for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknell’d, uncoffin’d, and unknown.
Even though Aquaman had to fight harder, endure the jokes of other, less limited heroes, and find relevance in an ecosystem hostile to the humans that had to empathize with him, Aquaman was never forced to confront the truly horrifying consequences of life in the ocean.