Early this December, the National Park Service announced that the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument made the short list for UNESCO World Heritage designation. Though hidden beneath the water’s surface, the Mariana Trench, a unique geologic and ecologic landmark and a natural treasure, dwarfs the Grand Canyon in scale and scope.
The Mariana Trench is more than a mile deeper than Mt. Everest is high and hosts Challenger Deep, the deepest point on Earth. It is also home to numerous sites of exceptional scientific value, including submerged volcanoes that host deep-sea hydrothermal vents, the largest documented mud volcanoes, coral atolls and fringing reef ecosystems that support apex predators like sharks and whales, as well as habitat-forming stony corals.
Welcome back! We missed a week while I was traveling across the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands and Guam, so dig in and enjoy!
Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)
Year-in-review news roundups are one of my favorite parts of December. I really enjoy remembering all of the interesting and inspiring things that happened over the past year, especially after a rough year like this one. I especially enjoy “top science news of the year” roundups, and I was pleased to see marine science stories make the cut on many of them. For your “but why is this considered a top story but that isn’t” debating pleasure, here are the marine science news stories that made top science news stories of the year listicles!
Cuttings (short and sweet):
- Watch this hammerhead shark hunt and catch a stingray, from “Hunting the Hammerhead” on the Smithsonian Channel
From the Smithsonian Channel’s “Hunting the Hammerhead”
Plastics, more importantly microplastics, clog our oceans. This phenomena in the ocean has been likened to smog around cities. These plastic particles are dangerous because they can absorb toxins, subsequently be consumed by zooplankton and invertebrates, and bioaccumluate up the food web to fish that are consumed by humans. A study in Nature found that 25 percent of seafood sold contains microplastics! There has been a recent awareness of the unseen harm that exists when plastic pollution in the ocean degrades into microplastics. A report in Environmental Research Letters estimated that “accumulated number of micro plastic particles… ranges from 15 to 51 trillion particles, weighing between 93 and 236 thousand metric tons.” That is cray cray. Despite a better awareness of the impact of microplastics on marine ecology, we still have a poor spatial understanding of microplastics in the ocean. The presence and density of microplastics is determined by trawling the ocean (i.e., researchers go out with a net and physically count the pieces of plastic they pick up). As you can imagine, this is not very effective.
Conceptualization of plastic degrading in the ocean. (Photo credit: Archipelagos Institute)