“People think we are debating if this (deep sea mining) should happen or not, and that’s gone. It’s happening.”
One of the interesting things about deep-sea mining is that most of the people involved in the industry are environmentally motivated: the folks leading the charge for deep-sea mining and the folks urging caution have much more shared environmental values than coverage of the deep-sea mining negotiations would suggest. Which is why this quote caught me off-guard. Though an unapologetic proponent for the potential of deep-sea mining, Barron is usually much more diplomatic in his media statements. To declare that the debate is done seems reckless.
The deep-sea mining debate is most certainly not “gone”. It is, at the moment, more fiercely discussed that at any previous point in the industry’s 50 year history. While mining contractors have overcome significant political and technological hurdles to reach a point where they are on the cusp of the first commercial trials, the call for a moratorium on the development of the industry has more support, both within the International Seabed Authority, and without, than ever before. The invocation of the 2-year-trigger in 2021 jumpstarted the debate and forced the ISA to meet a deadline for finalization of the Mining Code, the legal structure that will determine when and how mining will proceed in the high seas.
Most of the plastic that enters our oceans in unaccounted for. While large, charismatic macroplastics float on or just beneath the surface, making for dramatic scenes of vast swaths of garbage littering the sea, the bulk of the plastic in the ocean exists as tiny particles of degraded plastics that sink to the bottom, enter food chains, and accumulate not just in the ecosystem, but within the tissue of marine animals.
If you’ve been following along with my adventures across social media, you may have seen that I recently inherited a massive collection of biological specimens from the deep sea. In addition to all the samples from my PhD work, I now have an archive that covers hydrothermal vents and methane seeps around the world collected over the last 20 years. This unique archive of biological samples provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to establish a baseline for microplastic accumulation in hydrothermal vent and methane seep species.
My objective is to establish a baseline for microplastic accumulation in deep-sea macrofauna from hydrothermal vents and methane seeps. This baseline will allow us to address key questions about the accumulation of microplastics in the deep sea.
Do microplastics accumulate in species that derive their food from the chemical energy in the plume of a hydrothermal vent? Does microplastic accumulation differ among non-chemosynthetic species associated with vents and seeps? Do patterns of microplastic accumulation vary among distinct deep-sea ecosystems and the general abyssal plane?
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing with you some of the weird and wonderful creatures that are part of this collection, including, of course, the iconic Giant Deep-sea Isopod (don’t worry, this particular specimen is staying on display).
Hey, Andrew, don’t you have a Patreon? Yes, yes I do. And I realize it’s super confusing to have two different fundraising platforms running simultaneously. Patreon supports this website, OpenCTD development, and my other weird projects. Experiment will be used to fund this microplastics study, exclusively. And, just to make things more confusing, everything I raise from Patreon this month will also go toward the Experiment microplastic project.
President Biden unveiled the nation’s first climate action plan specifically targeting ocean health. The Ocean Climate Action Plan advance several key climate initiatives, including providing 40% of federal investment benefits relating to climate change to disadvantaged communities; producing 30 gigawatts of energy from offshore wind by 2030; conserving at least 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030; and achieving zero emissions from international shipping no later than 2050. It’s a huge step forward and possibly one of the most consequential pieces of ocean policy since the Guano Islands Act.
Biden also announced plans to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine Monument, this would dramatically increase the proportion of protected oceans in US waters and get us closer to the 30 by 30 goal. The call also includes potentially renaming the Monument and several of the islands to recognize the history and heritage of Pacific islanders rather than the legacy of imperialism and colonization.
No word yet on the expansion of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.
This month, delegations from around the world agreed upon a treaty to protect biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction — ocean life beyond the limit of any country’s borders. The High Seas Treaty represents the culmination of over 2 decades of debate and negotiation. Once adopted, it establishes a framework for the protection and equitable sharing of marine genetic resources — animals and their DNA; promotes the implementation of marine protected areas in the high seas; and creates a scientific and technical body to review environmental impact assessments for ocean activities beyond borders.
Two years ago, I set out on a little mission: to build an off-grid solar array that would power my woodshop. This array needed to charge all my cordless batteries, but also drive my table saw, miter saw, circular saw, and the big router on my slab flattening jig. But there was a catch. The entire system could cost no more than one American Recovery Act stimulus check.
It worked. I beat the heck out of that set up and, other than in the dead of winter when it was too cold for the battery, it could handle most everything I threw at it, pretty well. It wasn’t perfect, and it had some issues with overdrawing, but the safety stops I put in place ensured that when I did push it too hard, it shut itself down rather than compromising components. There were limits, though, as I added bigger tools like a bench planer and started hogging through much tougher stock, I began to run into more and more issues.
So here we are, 2 years later, with all the upgrades and modifications that I made to my off-grid workshop to keep things running hard.
In the Last of Us, the most gruesome live-action adaptation of a video game about people being turned into fungus since 1993’s Super Mario Bros, a mutated species of Cordyceps destroys society by converting humans into mindless, sporulating mushroom people.
Cordyceps, a fungus that most commonly parasitizes ants, is real. It really does hijack its host’s nervous system, alter its behavior, and turn it into a spore-producing zombie. The outcome is strangely beautiful.
Though the current darling of gritty, realistic, science-based zombie fiction, Cordyceps is such a lightweight in the world of brain-breaking parasites that tech bros brew it into their adaptogenic coffee.
If you want to meet a truly unsettling zombie-making parasite, allow me to introduce you to Sacculina.
Sacculina is a genus of barnacle that parasitizes crabs. While most parasitic barnacles are perfectly happy growing on the carapace of a crab, Sacculina takes this partnership to the extreme.
Female Sacculina larvae drift through the ocean, until they encounter a crab. The larva then settles on the crab and searches for a joint in the crab’s carapace. Once it finds a gap in the arthropod’s armor, it transforms into a kentrogon, a specialized phase of the barnacle life cycle that possess a stylet–an organic syringe-like structure–which allows Sacculina to inject itself into the crab, and not much else. At this point, the hard shell attached to the crab’s carapace falls off and the barnacle continues to grown within its host.
Four years ago, I took over the Deep-sea Mining Observer from my predecessor, Arlo Hemphill. Conceived by the Pew Charitable Trust in 2016, The DSM Observer was created to be an online trade journal for the emerging industry as the International Seabed Authority navigated through the creation of an Exploitation Code for Seabed Minerals in the Area. Originally envisioned to run for two years, we continued to cover and report on critical developments into 2022.
After six years, the Deep-sea Mining Observer is coming to close.
There were also a lot of fascinating scientific discoveries, which this post will round up for you. As always, this is not meant to be a “best” or “top” list, so if your science isn’t included here please do not send angry letters. This is just some cool stuff I learned this year thanks to my amazing colleagues, in no particular order. Whenever possible I’ll also provide links to further reading on the topic. I hope you enjoy!
As a marine biologist who learned to sing many of these songs to pass time on research vessels while honoring maritime traditions, I’ve loved watching this style of music spill all over my social media feeds, letting a new generation experience them. (Watch this man’s skepticism quickly fade to joy as he listens to Wellerman and tell me it’s not one of the purest things you’ve ever seen).
However, reading people’s explanations of why Sea Shanties are The Next Big Thing has made me realize something important: I didn’t know as much of the history of this style of music as I thought I did, and I’m not alone—much of the information contained in the articles I linked to above is oversimplified or even incorrect (Wellerman is a maritime song, but isn’t really a sea shanty, for one egregious example). As I began to ask around, I realized that there isn’t a single authoritative and thorough article about the history and culture of the sea shanty written for lay audiences anywhere on Al Gore’s internet. So I decided to dig into the literature, speak to experts, and write one myself. I hope you enjoy it!