President Millard Fillmore
The numbers are in, and over the last eight years, President Barack Obama has protected more ocean than any other president in history. His expansion of NOAA and implementation of a National Ocean Policy will impact ocean health and fisheries management for generations. By almost any measure, he has had the biggest impact on the ocean of any modern presidency. Which raises the obvious question: is President Obama the most influential ocean president in history? Not by a long shot. That honor has to go to the president who’s policies have fundamentally shaped and reshaped how we view and control ocean territory, who laid the foundation for almost all the ocean protections we currently enjoy, and who set the precedent for the American Empire. That man is President Millard Fillmore, and he did it all for bird poop.
Agricultural science is beginning to understand that soil is not just soil, but a collection of nutrients that are slowly drawn from the ground by growing crops. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are crucial ingredients. The Industrial Revolution is pushing agriculture away from passive crop re-nourishment processes and towards intensive, fertilizer-driven farming. Fertilizer producers can’t keep up. At the same time, the American whaling industry had reached its zenith and began to fall. Coastal whales were harder to find and the bold men of Nantucket ventured out across the Pacific in search of the last great whaling grounds.
In these voyages, the whalers found numerous tiny, often uncharted islands in the Pacific. These remote islands were refuges, not just for weary sailors, but for generations of seabirds. From these seabirds rose great mountains of guano, guano rich in the nutrients plants crave. Guano was the solution to the fertilizer crises.
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)
That ambassador is Bathynomus giganteus, the giant, deep-sea isopod.
A giant deep sea isopod on the sea floor. Photo via NOAA Photobank.
Conservation has long had the concept of Flagship Species—popular, charismatic species that serve as rallying points for conservation awareness and action. Formalized within the framework of conservation marketing, flagship species are focused around particular goals and audiences. Think of the WWF’s Giant Panda, Polar Bears and a thousand different arctic or climate change campaigns, or even the American Bald Eagle, whose decline galvanized the country into action. These animals are iconic. They connect people to species and ecosystems in crisis. They are Flagship Species.
The Giant Deep-sea Isopod is not a flagship species. The Giant Deep-sea Isopod addresses a much more fundamental issue: despite being the largest, most diverse ecosystem on the planet, most people have no direct connection, no frame of reference, for the deep sea. Read More
We stand at a crossroads.
Southern Fried Science has occupied a unique niche in the online ocean community. We have defended commercial and recreational fishers as often as we have opposed them. We have at times stood behind ocean conservation policy and at times pushed back against excessive legislation. We have criticised those within our community and those without. We have been radically libertarian and radically socialist and every label in between.
We are comfortable joining the long call, the great song that booms from the belly of a blue whale, and circles the world as it echoes through the community.
We are comfortable being the lone cry of dissent, pushing back against the onslaught of righteous exuberance.
We have never sought consensus, only common ground.
For almost a year now a phrase has been rattling around inside my head. At first it was just catchy cadence, something to use on the next article. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to understand what it really means; how deeply it permeates almost every aspect of life on this planet.
Diversity is resilience. Read More
Southern Fried Science loves giant isopods. There are few deep-sea animals more iconic, more charismatic, more weird and wonderful, than the deep-sea isopod. The biggest of the deep-sea isopods, the giant deep-sea isopod, Bathynomus giganteus, is a quintessentially American beast. It dwells in the deep Gulf of Mexico. The bulk of its known range falls within the United States Exclusive Economic Zone. It was first collected by American scientist Alexander Agassiz (though it was formally described by his colleague and collaborator French zoologist Alphonse Milne-Edwards). Tough on the outside, soft on the inside, fiercely independent yet able to work in massive aggregations to consume the bloated carcass of a whale, alternately terrifying and adorable, I can think of no better animal to represent the deep water of the United States better than our own Bathynomous giganteus.
So today, with an historic election looming, we decided it was past time to reflect on the things we love, the things that unite us, the things that fill us with wonder, and call upon Congress to officially adopt the giant deep-sea isopod as the National Deep-sea Animal of the United States. Read More
Picture a pill bug, roly poly, woodlouse, or doodle bug, an animal found under rocks and logs throughout the United States. Now picture an animal similar to that pill bug, but as big as a cat, crawling across the Gulf of Mexico. That is the giant deep-sea isopod.
The deep waters of the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone is home to this large, recognizable animal, which can reach almost 2 feet in length. Since their discovery in the late 19th century, giant isopods have captured the public’s imagination, acting as an Ambassador Species for deep-sea ecosystems. Ambassador Species are important for education, exploration, and conservation as they provide a charismatic icon to help introduce people to new and unfamiliar places.
WHEREAS: Read More
Giant Isopod. Photo by author.
I love giant deep-sea isopods (Bathynomous giganteus if you’re fancy).
I’ve written quite a few articles about giant isopods. Giant isopods were prominently featured in our epic ocean monograph, Sizing Ocean Giants. I’ve even been fortunate enough to observe novel giant isopod behavior in the deep sea. If Southern Fried Science had a mascot, it would have to be the giant isopod.
When I started Scanning the Sea, I knew that a giant isopod would have to be part of the collection. There was just one problem: 3D scanning marine critters is an imprecise art, and you need to start with a very clean specimen. Most of the giant isopods I had access to had been floating in formalin for decades, or came up in pieces, or were preserved in a twisty, roly-poly ball. They weren’t good candidates for scanning. Read More
This is the transcript of the keynote I delivered at the Fourth International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It has been lightly modified for flow.
Read Act I: Science is Storytelling.
In Act I I discussed the underlying structure that frames narrative storytelling, but now I want to talk about how we can use the tools available to us on the internet to transform that narrative into something even more potent.
But before we can do that I have to tilt at some windmills.
When we talk about good outreach, we often look to people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, like Bill Nye, like David Attenborough, and like Carl Sagan. These are the paragons of scientific outreach, the icons that we often hold up as examples for what constitutes good outreach. We talk about things like Cosmos, both Sagan’s and deGrasse Tyson’s, Bill Nye the Science Guy and his more recent work combating climate change, or David Attenborough and his astounding Nature Documentaries. Read More
Triton Gills. From their crowdfunding campaign.
I wasn’t going to review Triton Gills, currently racking up $700,000+ on IndieGogo. I hate being the wettest of wet blankets when it comes to new ocean innovations and I’m much happier boosting the profile of good, scientifically sound, ocean projects. But I was curious about Triton after a few journalists asked me to comment about it. On their Facebook page, I asked them to respond to the following articles:
Both of which raise important, salient questions and concerns voiced by experts in the field, including the research director of the Divers’ Alert Network, our friend Al Dove at Deep Sea News, and myself.
Their response? They deleted the comment and banned the Southern Fried Science account from their page.
I was willing to write Triton off as a team of hopeful idealists and wish them well on their quixotic quest. I’m certainly not one to audit what other people choose to support through crowdfunding. It’s always a gamble, and that’s fine. But now, having dug far more deeply into their proposal than I ever wanted to, I’m no longer willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Triton Gills is almost certainly a scam. Read More
1. “I was once bitten by an octopus at the beach and got terribly ill. (Yes, apparently octopuses can be poisonous.)” Senator Ted Cruz