Thursday, January 26, 2012

How you can reduce your ocean footprint?

Shared from The Marine Mammal Center -

When you throw something "away", where is away? Everything we manufacture has to go somewhere when we are finished with it. That somewhere is in the land or out at sea. Although the problem of ocean trash can seem overwhelming, there are some simple things you can do every day to minimize your impact on the ocean. If you think it isn’t worth the time and energy, remember the animals who make the ocean their home. Afterall, everything we do, not only affects them, it filters down to us - we eat the same food and we swim in the same water - and the ocean is the planet's biggest life source.

Cut apart those six-pack plastic soda can rings.  If left uncut in the trash, they can make their way to the ocean and trap an unsuspecting, innocent animal. 

Reduce the toxins you use in your yard, as those affect the waterways via run-off.

Bring your own reusable shopping bags whenever you shop.

Be sure to properly dispose of fishing lines and lures, as animals can mistake them for food if they end up in the water.

Try not to use helium balloons as both the balloons and their accompanying strings often end up in the water. Choose another way to decorate a party instead.

Select re-usable items whenever possible and repurpose old items.

Buy in bulk and bring your own container to the store for flour, rice, beans and other dry goods. 

Try buying milk and yogurt in glass and ceramic containers that can be returned to the grocery store.

Recycle everything.  More and more items can be recycled if you take advantage of proper recycling stations and centers.

Bring your own re-usable cup to the cafĂ© when you buy that morning latte. 

Carry a re-usable water bottle to work and school. 

Choose a product that has less packaging over those that are individually wrapped.  Better yet, can you buy it in bulk?

Whatever you do, remember the 4 R's - REDUCE, REFUSE, RECYCLE & REUSE.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Nudibranchs are snails without shells, basically the underwater version of a slug. Their name comes from Latin and Greek and means “naked gills.”

Every color of the rainbow can be found in the over 3,000 species of nudibranchs. A quick Google image search will show you the incredible beautify of these animals. In the animal kingdom bright colors often signify a warning, “don’t eat me, I might make you sick.” This is true for nudibranchs too as you can see in these pictures of the zebra nudibrach, Hypselodoris zebra.

Nudibranchs are carnivores. A fun fact about nudibranchs is that they often have a diet of toxin-filled animals, like sponges. Not only do the toxins not injure the nudibranch, but the nudibranch incorporates the toxins into its own skin! Some who eat animals with nematocysts (stinging cells) like anemones or jellyfish can even incorporate those into their bodies! Talk about self-defense!

I did my research project on the zebra nudibranch when I was at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. The project didn’t work out as planned, but I got to learn a lot more about these fascinating and beautiful underwater snails.

They have horns on their head called rhinophores that are used to sense tastes or scents. Those sorts of receptors are called chemosensory organs. For protection, some nudibranchs can suck in their rhinophores to keep them safe.

One of the most interesting things about nudibranchs is their sex life. They are simultaneous hermaphrodites – both male and female at the same time! This is a benefit for the nudibranchs because if they can mate with any individual they happen to run into. After mating the nudibranchs produce a clear jelly-like band that houses their eggs. In the zebra nudibranch the eggs are bright red as seen here. They make spirals of these egg bands on hard surfaces like corals or the side of a tank like here. Then, the baby nudibranchs hatch.

You can learn more about nudibranchs by watching this great video.

Photos by Sara MacSorley

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Tunicates are also known as ascidians or sea squirts. They have a simple structure where they create a current through their siphons to bring water into their body cavity. There, they collect the little pieces of plankton or detritus – decaying organic matter from the water in a mucus net and push out the left over water.

Like other filter feeders, tunicates are important creatures for the entire ecosystem.

They help keep things in balance.
The name tunicate comes from their outer protective covering or tunic. The tunics and other parts of the tunicate body contain cellulose, something they have in common with plants. Some species use their tunic as a defense mechanism by storing acidic compounds – not very tasty for predatory fish or crabs.

This species of painted tunicate pictured here, Clavelina picta, is common in the shallow waters of the Caribbean and in Bermuda. It attaches itself to other organisms like sponges and soft corals and lives in colonies of hundreds of individuals. They are mainly asexual so they bud (multiply) into clone tunicates to add to the colonies.

The eye catching bright pink outline made painted tunicates one of my favorite animals to see underwater during my study abroad experience at the Bermuda Institute for Ocean Sciences. Their simple structure also fascinated me.
For something so simple, they are actually one of the most evolved (speaking only in terms of evolutionary time) invertebrates. They are urochordates, meaning that they have primitive spinal chords and that next in line after the true chordates they are our closest relatives. So even though tunicates may look like a bag of jelly, they have been pretty successful.

Why should we care about these little jelly bags? Well besides being an important filter feeder for the ecosystem they may also be the source of chemical compounds that could have medicinal uses, even against cancer.

Read more here about how tunicates are being used in regenerative medicine.

Tunicates can also be a stowaway in the ballast water of ships. This can potential bring invasive species into new environments where they can disrupt or even destroy the local environment. For example, there are Didemnum species that can cover the entire sea floor, literally suffocating the local marine life. This can also cause economic impacts, an example being if there are oyster beds on the bottom being covered in quickly multiplying tunicates.

Learn more about Didemnum here.
So while they are either killing ecosystems or curing cancer, tunicates are an animal that scientists will continue to learn more about for years to come. Pretty powerful for a little bag of jelly!

Photos by Sara MacSorley off the coast of Bermuda