Adélie to Waitaha: Why you should care about World Penguin Day

Today marks an important day in highlighting the issues facing some of the natural world’s most charismatic creatures. It’s safe to say that penguins are adored by both young and old across the globe. These dopey and clumsy, adorable birds are featured in countless documentaries and are arguably the most recognised icon of Antarctica. There are roughly 17 species of penguin.  From the more widely recognised Emperor Penguin of Antarctica to the lesser known Fiordland Penguin of New Zealand and Magellanic Penguin of South America, all of them are under threat.

It comes as no surprise that penguins, not unlike vast numbers of other animals, are under threat. Just last year an article on The Guardian website has stated that the Adélie penguin is considered the fourth most at risk species from extinction on the planet. Rapid increases in sea temperatures and incredible declines in sea ice are just two of the causes for a predicted 80% decrease in Adélie colonies in the West Antarctic Peninsula. Population changes due to anthropogenic forces such as these are previously unprecedented, but there are changes we can make on an individual basis to alter the future of this group of birds. And we are changing. Despite being adapted to living in extreme environments, penguins like most species, are highly sensitive to climate change.

Perhaps the most commonly recognised penguin is the Emperor Penguin. Being the largest living species of this flightless bird, it is often the most documented, and sadly, the most widely kept in captive environments. It is without a doubt that the largest threat posed to penguins of all species is climate change, particularly within the cold environments surrounding the Southern Ocean. Extreme melting of sea ice leads to less habitat being available for the penguins. In the south-west Atlantic, populations of Adélie and Emperor penguins have shifted poleward, whilst the ice-intolerant Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins have increased their geographical range southward. Additionally, the polar sea ice is a critical breeding ground for the penguin’s principle sources of food, such as krill, and indirectly zooplankton and phytoplankton which form the basis of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean food web. Fluctuating weather patterns exacerbated by climate change, such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, will also cause alterations in marine ecosystems, ultimately affecting penguin populations. As penguins have a long life span, they are unlikely to be able to adapt to their new ecological niche due to slow microevolution, meaning they require phenotypic plasticity in order to survive their changing environment.

Arguably more directly, although perhaps less frequent, oil spills are devastating to almost all species within the oceanic environment when they occur. We often overlook penguin species that do not reside in the polar environment of Antarctic, such as the Galapagos Penguin and the African Penguin, but these are more at risk from oil spills due to trade routes operating in the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, in 2011 more than 800 tonnes of fuel leaked from a Maltese ship into the Southern Atlantic threatening half of the world’s northern Rockhopper Penguins. Penguins coated in oil are unable to control their body temperature and cannot forage for food, leading to starvation due to their inability to float in water caused by the oil. Many birds will try to clean themselves of the oil as well, which results in the ingestion of oil causing numerous infections and ulcers leading to their death. Although it is difficult to volunteer at an oil spill site when it’s happening on the other side of the globe to you, if one should ever, devastatingly occur, within driving distance of your home please consider volunteering. It takes thousands of people to clear up the environmental disaster created by tonnes of oil flooding into the ocean. Two people are required to clean up each bird, each taking up to an hour. As you can probably imagine, this may seem like an endless task, so every little effort really does help.

Overfishing is a widely-known threat to oceanic ecosystems and food webs and indirectly affects penguins across the planet. It is one of the primary threats caused by humans to global penguin populations, whilst also being something we can all actively mitigate in our individual lives. In recent years there has been a trend towards the consumption of krill oil as a health supplement. I cannot stress enough how important it is to not buy into this industry. Krill, aside from zooplankton and phytoplankton, make up the basis of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean food webs. Almost all of the species residing within these ecosystems depend on krill for their survival, whether indirectly or directly, including penguins. Unsustainable catching of krill, alongside larger species such as sardines and herring, are fuelling the population decrease of penguins as parents are spending a longer time at sea searching for food for their chicks, ultimately leading to their chick’s death. Out of all the steps you can undertake to help future population’s of penguins, this is probably the simplest. Actively look for Marine Conservation Society certified sustainable fish when shopping. It really is that simple. Most of the major supermarkets sell fish from these sustainable stocks, so this one really isn’t that hard to implement into your life.

Climate change, oil spills and overfishing are the primary causes for declines in global penguin populations. That said, there are a number of other causes such as illegal egg collections, fishing bycatch and marine pollution that all contribute to their decline. It is obvious that several of these causes are interconnected, and by mitigating the effects of one, it is perhaps easy to reduce the effects of others. If one thing is for certain, everyone can play their part in the survival of this group of loveable, flightless birds.

Fundamentally, I believe it’s not fair to condemn hundreds of thousands of species to an extinction, whether that is indirectly or directly caused by anthropogenic forces. Of course, I am biased entirely. I study natural sciences and I have been fascinated with conserving the natural world ever since my first fundraiser in primary school, but if we cannot safeguard a keystone group like penguins, then what hope does everything else have?

How You Can Help

https://support.wwf.org.uk/adopt-a-penguin

http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/projects/global-penguin-conservation

https://www.falklandsconservation.com/wildlife/penguins

 

 

Venom: Killer and Cure at the Natural History Museum

Read my latest review on the New Nature Blog, this time I visited the Venom exhibition at the Natural History Museum…

Spiders, scorpions and snakes strike fear into the hearts of many. Not only are many equipped with an intimidating bite or sting, many also have another weapon in their armoury – venom. It is this powerful biological substance that is the latest focus of the Natural History Museum at their exhibition – Venom: Killer and Cure.

If the enormous spiders’ silhouette at the entrance doesn’t deter you as you walk through an eerily dark corridor, you will be met by a fascinating array of venomous creatures, each with their own unique story to tell. From gigantic invertebrates like the Amazonian giant centipede (Scolopendra gigantean) to terrifying reptiles like the western diamond rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), a collection of specimens are on display covering all classes. But not all these specimens are floating in formaldehyde, with a live Burgundy goliath bird-eating tarantula (Theraphosa stirmi) patiently waiting…

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Mobulas and Murder: The Hunt for Gill Rakers

All accounts of diving with manta rays detail their majesty and grace, partnered with the sense of awe you feel as their great mass glides through the water so effortlessly above you. It is one of the ambitions of numerous diving fanatics to swim with one in the flesh; however, manta rays – alongside their close cousins, the devil rays – are in trouble. (There is a debate now as to whether manta rays and devils both belong to the Mobula genus, but that is for another blog post, another day). Like much of the marine megafauna enriching our world’s oceans, mantas and devils are under threat, this time from an appalling illegal trade in their gill rakers. I first came across this grotesque trade a few years ago, and still to do this day I cannot wrap my head around the logic behind it.

 

Dharavandhoo Thila - Manata Black Pearl.JPG
Reef manta in the Maldives (Photo by Shiyam ElkCloner)

 

Let me explain. The dried gill plates (known as pengyusai) of manta and devil rays are a sought-after commodity within traditional Chinese medicine and the Asian dried seafood market. Despite only recently being added to traditional Chinese medicine literature, dried gill plates are marketed as curing a range of illnesses, including cancer. There is no scientific literature to back up these claims. China, Sri Lanka and Vietnam are just some of the Asian nations where the trade in gill plates has been documented. However, it is Guangzhou, China that’s the epicentre of where this devastating trade takes place. A 2016 paper in the journal Aquatic Conservation states that “99% of the total estimated market volume of 120.5 tons in 2013” was traded in Guangzhou alone. Although conservation efforts are showing signs of success in reducing the trade of these gill rakers within Guangzhou, there are signs that the trade is relocating to Hong Kong.

Mantas and devils use their gill rakers to filter feed plankton through the water. Like the sharks who are stripped of their highly valuable fins, mantas are illegally fished in vast quantities for their gill rakers – an expensive commodity within Chinese and Southeast Asian markets. Unfortunately, their populations are vulnerable due to their low reproductive rates and high susceptibility to being fished, both intentionally and as bycatch – many migratory paths of these elegant fish are trespassed by fishing boats. In combination with climate change and environmental pollution, illegal fishing has resulted in two manta and three mobula species being enlisted on the IUCN Red List. At the moment, the story looks pretty bleak for these graceful beings, but all is not lost.
So, what can you do? Well, supporting an NGO like the Manta Trust is a good place to start. Not only are these majestic fish threatened by illegal fisheries spurred by the illegal trade in gill rakers, but as previously mentioned, climate change, pollution and development also threatened their habitat. And not just mantas and devils, the health of our oceans as a whole is threatened by global threats like climate change, making it paramount that we elicit change now. If making a direct donation isn’t something you’re able to do, maybe try the Give as You Live Initiative. This is great. Every time you shop online, a donation is made to The Manta Trust without costing you a penny. Heck, there’s no excuses why you can’t do this one!

Another great initiative is the Marine Megafauna Foundation. I first came across this wonderful organisation and Dr. Andrea Marshall – a wonderful marine scientist who was the first person in the world to complete a PhD on manta rays! – a few years ago. Of course, donations are also invaluable to the fantastic work this organisation carries out, but you can also help via raising awareness or maybe you fancy a sponsored swim? Whatever you do, everything helps.

Not only are these rays beautiful creatures, but recent research also indicates that they might be self-aware. Fish are more sentient than many of us give them credit for, but this study for me was particularly exciting for future animal behaviour and intelligence studies. With the largest brain of all fish species, this is hardly a surprise – if there is a correlation between brain size and intelligence, but the jury is still out on that one. Stronger protective legislation and policy is without doubt required to secure the future of these magnificent rays, but there are things we can do now. Education and outreach are fundamental to conservation and this is no exception. And for that, we can all play a role.

Still Searching for The Perfect Ocean Gift This Christmas?

If you’re anything like me, you will still be doing your Christmas shopping (or not even have begun yet, oops!). But if you’re still flummoxed by what to get your ocean hero, then no need to fret!

Here’s my list of pressie ideas to get the ocean lover in your life! The best part? Most of them are sold by NGOs, so not only will you be getting a cute pressie, but you’ll also be helping these organisations to carry out their vital work.

1.) A Marine Conservation Gift Membership

The Marine Conservation is a fantastic organisation that carries out vital work surrounding conservation issues like reducing plastic pollution. Included in your year’s membership is a subscription to the fascinating Marine Conservation magazine that is packed full of quirky stories, local events and intriguing insights into the marine world that your ocean lover will adore.

 

MCS Membership
Image: The Marine Conservation Society

 

Price: £42

Buy Here

 

2.) Hammerhead Shark Pendant

Know someone who is shark-mad in your life? This pewter necklace is sold by The Shark Trust, a wonderful organisation in aid of shark research and conservation. Plenty of other designs are available on their website, but this hammerhead is my personal favourite.

 

Hammerhead Shark Pendant
Image: The Shark Trust

 

Price: £15

Buy Here

 

3.) Project Biodiversity Sea Turtle Hatchling Adoption

Adopting an animal is another great way to give a gift whilst also donating to a crucial conservation cause. Project Biodiversity is an NGO I hold dear to my heart after witnessing their brilliant work this summer. 1 in 1000 hatchlings survive to adulthood, you can help conserve these beautiful animals by adopting a hatchling today.

turtles-620x264

Price: 10 Euro

Buy Here

 

4.) What A Fish Knows

This year I stumbled across this book whilst in The Natural History Museum shop. It is easily one of the most interesting and eye-opening books I have ever read, and it since has eagerly been passed around many friends and relatives. In an accessible and entertaining manner, this fantastically-written book by Jonathan Balcombe enlightens the reader on the wonders of fish intellect.

Price: £9.99

Buy Here

 

5.) Sue Timney Tea Towel

Quite honestly, I just find this design beautiful – and hopefully, you do too! Proceeds benefit the work of the WWF and it also brightens up your kitchen

 

Sue Timney Tea Towel - Fish
Image: WWF

 

Price: £9.99

Buy Here

 

6.) Jumper

Loads of other clothing options and designs are available from some great charities, but this one by The Shark Trust is easily my favourite.

 

Love Sharks Jumper
Image: The Shark Trust

 

Price: £35 – £40

Buy Here

7.) Blowfish’s Oceanopedia: 291 Extraordinary Things You Didn’t Know About The Sea

Now this one is also on my Christmas list this year! Filled with bite-sized, fishy facts that are thoroughly entertaining and also detailed in an accessible manner, this oceanopedia is set to be one of this year’s best sellers!

 

Image: Amazon

 

Price: £17.99

Buy Here

 

8.) Pearl Necklace and Earrings

For the dolphin-lover in your life, this ornate jewellery set which benefits the SeaWatch Foundation. If you fancy something a little more hands-on, why not take part in a Marine Mammal Survey course?

 

Image: SeaWatch Foundation, Adopt A Dolphin

 

Price: £10

Buy Here

 

9.) Emperor Penguin Toy

Penguins are adorable and these Antarctic dwellers are incredibly cuddly (at least in plush toy form!). This one from the Zoological Society London also features an adorable penguin chick, great for that mini marine biologist in your life.

 

Image: ZSL 

 

Price: £30

Buy Here

 

10.) Steel Water Bottle

Finally, the most practical of all gifts – a reusable water bottle. Although there are loads of options on the market, this one here is my favourite purely for the marine-based colour! Helping to reduce plastic waste is surely one of the best gifts you can give this Christmas

 

Image: Chilly’s Bottles

 

Price: £20

Buy Here

 

So there you have it! Ten pressie ideas for the ocean defender in your life. Although these are my recommendations, there are plenty of other fantastic gifts available on the links provided…

Hope your Christmas goes swimmingly!

Hannah x

 

 

Back Again

First of all, I feel like I owe everyone an apology to who follows my blog and has been asking me for new content over the past 3 months! I have been reading your comments, but just haven’t had any time to write anything of quality, but alas that has now changed guys…

Unfortunately, I have been snowed under with my dissertation and everything else that comes along with third year. Currently, Masters applications are taking up a lot of my time. I’ve also changed my degree – Hello, Natural Sciences! I was so so pleased when I was allowed to transfer degree programmes, because now I can finally focus on getting a well-rounded view of environmental issues, which is incredibly important to me. What else has happened? Oh, I’ve written for New Nature magazine about the incredible Whales Beneath The Surfaceexhibition at the Natural History Museum in London and I’ve written for Project Biodiversity about my time in Cabo Verde at their turtle conservation project. I’m currently writing more articles for other publications that will be out in the near future and I’m so excited for them to be published and shared with everyone.

Back at uni, I’m still writing for our biological sciences blog and I’m now also on the learning development blog, so lots and lots of writing is occurring. I achieved the BSAC drysuit qualification last week, so I can now dive in the UK (whoop whoop!). This weekend I was supposed to go to St. Abb’s Head for a diving trip, but unfortunately the weather is too bad, so it’s been cancelled – another time though! Speaking of diving, I’m already planning my trips for next summer and am hoping to go for a diving week away in the Med at some point as well as volunteering in South Africa at a shark conservancy. Maybe I’ll even get away at Christmas if I’m lucky?

With the end of my undergrad looming, I’m really starting to think about my future plans. I’ve always been a ‘bigger picture’ person, but sometimes it’s just difficult trying to figure out what my next move will be. I love writing and will always want to write about the importance of safeguarding our oceans, but I also adore learning the science. There’s so many things I want to do; write a book, start a charity, have an ecotourism business, be a marine biologist, produce a radio show, maybe even be a television presenter?! When you have so many ideas buzzing around your head, it’s sometimes difficult to pin down where to start, don’t you think? Anyway, that’s enough from me for now. If you want to keep up with me online, you can on Twitter and Facebook. If not, I’ll see you here this time next week for some more marine blogging!

Hannah x

 

 

Project Biodiversity: Saving Sea Turtles

Whilst on my travels around Sal, Cabo Verde around a month ago, I had an incredible opportunity to participate in one of the sea turtle nesting walks operated by a local organisation – Explore CV – who work in conjunction with Project Biodiversity, a local non-profit organisation responsible for the conservation of sea turtles on Sal island. Prior to this experience I happened to see a pair of mating loggerheads – much like the photograph above – whilst on a diving trip, wetting my appetite for seeing these majestic animals up-close in one of natures greatest events.

After being picked up from my hotel in the dead of night, we were escorted to Kite Beach, Sal where the project is based. Over the course of three or so hours we walked the length of the beach, with only our guide’s infra-red light and the accompaniment of the moonlight to aid our vision. Any sign of unnatural light, like a flashlight or a phone screen, would make the females unsettled and unlikely to nest on the beaches. Although hearing the soothing noise of waves falling on the beach and the feeling of sand between our toes is always a pleasure, as the duration of our walk went on, there was only one thing on my mind – loggerhead turtles.

Marine turtles are for many the symbol of the Cabo Verde islands. Within almost every souvenir shop there were items painted with or carved into turtles; there is very much the sense that the ecotourism industry is fundamental to the local economy. Five different species of marine turtles inhabit the waters surrounding the Cabo Verdean waters – Leatherbacks, Loggerheads, Hawksbills, Greens and Olive Ridleys. During my evening on Kite Beach I was lucky enough to witness the nesting of three individual female loggerhead turtles. From the initial process of the turtles heaving their gargantuan weight up the beach, to the laying stage itself, and then the returning of the female to the sea, it was awe-inspiring.

Like many, I am an avid viewer of marine life documentaries, so prior to this experience I thought I’d be quite prepared on what to expect. But, on seeing the first female haul herself out of the water, it really was mesmerising. First and foremost, the organisms size is breath-taking. One of the females was thought to be a youngster, taking a staggering six attempts to find an appropriate nesting site and lay her eggs. Once she had laid roughly eighty eggs the female rested for several moments before attempting to return to the sea. I was positioned just to the side of her on the sand, and looking into her eyes I could tell she was knackered. For a few brief moments she rested her head and closed her eyes, before scooping the sand out from in front of her and beginning her journey back to the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the major reasons for the beach walks is to deter hunters from poaching the turtles as they are nesting. Poachers hunt the nesting females for their meat, whereas dogs and artifical lighting are the largest threat for the clutch. Project Biodiversity ensure those nests that are threatened are moved to the protected hatcheries. Since the implementation of beach protection in 2008 the number of nesting females has drastically decreased. Thanks to Project Biodiversity’s aims of encouraging the local community to become involved with the preservation and restoration of the natural habitats of Sal Island, as well as the vast number of hard-working volunteers who come to Sal for the Turtle Conservation Project, loggerhead turtle populations are increasing. With only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings excepted to survive until adulthood, these reptilian giants already have the odds stacked against them, without the added pressure of any human-induced threats.

As with everything though, marine turtles are threatened by various activities being carried out in Cabo Verde. Aside from poaching, the increasing demand by tourists for luxurious holidays on the Cabo Verde islands has caused tourist developments to drastically increase over the past few years. These touristic developments can have terrible consequences on the precious sand dune ecosystems that nesting females rely on so much; Sand dunes are integral for providing the nesting turtles with protection for their clutches. As previously mentioned, females will not nest on the beach if they see any sign of human activity. Many hotels on Sal have changed their lights in order to not scare the turtles – those that haven’t are reported to have not had many, if any, nest sites on their beaches. Known to have one of the best biological GPS systems in nature, allowing them to nest on the exact beach on which they were born, it is possible that the unnatural light as well as interruptions in the earth’s magnetic field, may disrupt turtle navigation routes.

There is no doubt that these are truly beautiful animals. It’s not hard to be in awe of their evolution and mechanisms by which they return to nest – the ability to naturally follow the earth’s magnetic field, sometimes for over 1,400 miles in distance staggers me. It would be heartbreakingly awful if we could not manage to conserve a species that has existed on earth for more than 100 million years. There is still so much of their lives that remains a mystery, so many more discoveries to be made and research to be undertaken.

So what can you do? There exists a variety of ways to get involved with this amazing NGO. From adopting a turtle nest to becoming a member of the organisation, you can make a difference through your donations. If you prefer a more hands-on approach, Project Biodiversity offers volunteer placements during the nesting season each year, which is a fantastic way to get first-hand experience as well as making a real-impact on marine turtle conservation. Fancy staying longer? Then perhaps you’d like to apply for one of the variety of jobs required to run a project like this for next year’s nesting season! However you’re capable of helping will be greatly appreciated by the organisation and I really cannot express enough how inspiring of an experience this was for me. As an aspiring marine biologist seeing these animals partake in one of natures wonders was a truly fascinating experience, and one I will not be forgetting in a long time.

If you’d like more information on the project, or would like to donate, please visit Project Biodiversity’s website – https://www.projectbiodiversity.org/.

Hannah

Image – ©Kostas Papafitsoros

Cabo Verde: Beyond the Beach

As I write this I am less than 24 hours away from embarking on my trip to Cabo Verde. Despite it being a family holiday, whilst I am there I hope to achieve my PADI Open Water qualification as well as participating in conservation at a local level. As with most places I travel to, before I head out there I am keen to familiarise myself with the key environmental issues that are occurring within the Cabo Verde islands and whether there may be anything I can do to help whilst I am out there. Is Cabo Verde truly a tropical paradise, filled with pristine coral reefs and plentiful fish stocks? It certainly looks glorious in all of the brochures; unfortunately, I have my doubts.

A quick Google search and the first thing I am presented with is an illegal trade in sharks – specifically blue sharks and shortfin makos. The late Rob Stewart, the filmmaker and conservationist behind Sharkwater, is thought to have discovered an illegal trade in blue sharks present in Cabo Verde not long before his death. During a 10 week voyage conducted by Greenpeace between February and May this year, a number of vessels were found to be carrying out illegal practices, such as shark finning and fishing without licences. These infractions stem much further from simply breaking the law though, as many of the boats boarded by Greenpeace volunteers belonged to international boats, originating from countries such as Korea, Italy and China. According to Quartz Media, Western Africa is thought to lose as much as $2 billion each year due to illegal fishing. The socio-economic and environmental consequences of over-fishing of any species, not just sharks, are incredibly complex and inter-connected. In the case of sharks, removing apex predators such as these from the food web can result in trophic cascades, decimating populations of other species further down the web. With a number of threats already stacked up against marine species populations, from ocean acidification to plastic pollution, it is looking increasingly likely that our wild fish stocks will diminish globally, sooner rather than later if no action is taken.

Tragically, another massive conservation issue that was highlighted by my Google search was the poaching of sea turtles. In my ignorance, I wasn’t even aware that the poaching of sea turtles was happening. Previously, I believed the poaching of their eggs and their entanglement in trawler nets and longlines to be the greatest threats to sea turtles globally. According to the Turtle Foundation, in 2007 more than 1,000 female loggerhead sea turtles were slaughtered upon their arrival on Boa vista Island, Cabo Verde to lay their eggs. Thankfully, after the implementation of a protection and surveillance programme by the Turtle Foundation, the following year saw a 90% reduction in mortality.

Whilst I am there I am also keen to see the difference that tourism has made, both on the local population and on the environment. Often you hear stories of tourism having catastrophic impacts on the environment, for example through excessive pollution, overexploitation of resources and further industrial development. I am intrigued to see whether the local population are being exploited by massive hotel chains, or whether they are also reaping the benefits that economic developments can cause.

Most importantly, I don’t want to approach this holiday as just lounging around on a beach for two weeks. During my exploration of Sal, Cape Verde I really hope to immerse myself on the island,  in it’s people and it’s culture, whilst also educating myself about the ecology of the island and the challenges it faces. Despite being incredibly exciting to also catch some sunrays, I am somewhat apprehensive about the state of the marine ecology I will find.

 

 

What Do You Know About Marine Algae?

Our lives depend on algae. Without these marine plants, there would be a collapse of aquatic ecosystems, meaning no seafood for our plates. Algae are primary producers at the base of aquatic food webs, vital for the health and vitality of marine organisms and ecosystems. Furthermore, in evolutionary terms, all land plants derived from a class of freshwater green algae. It is calculated that roughly 50% of the oxygen produced comes from these slippery organisms. Not only do we need algae to eat and breathe, algae could also potentially provide us with a form of green energy, helping us to deviate away from fossil fuels. Sustainable biofuel production is just one way algal may provide us with fuel thanks to its photosynthetic abilities. Not forgetting to mention that the pharmaceutical potential of algae too, these wonder organisms may even hold the key to treating deadly diseases like cancers and AIDs.

These marvellous organisms that float around our oceans are often forgotten, overtaken by the sharks, whales and dolphins. Why not try and get acquainted with them below?

The Chlorophyta (Green Algae)

Green Algae
Photo Credit: http://www.seealgae.com

Firstly, this is the type of algae you probably associate with the ocean – the green stuff. Green algae can be classified in two ways; in the broad sense as Chlorophyta having over 7,000 species, or under one clade of Viridiplantae with just over 4,000 species. The green algae you tend to find in marine habitats are chlorophytes, whereas those found in freshwater environments are charophytes. Beta-carotene is a really useful pigment found in green algaes, which can be used in food colourings and may even hold a cure for some cancers. Some really cool species of chlorophyta include Mermaid’s wine glass (Acetabularia crenulata), Sea grapes (Caulerpa racemosa) and the Three finger leaf alga (Halimeda incrassate).

The Phaeophyta (Brown Algae)

 

Brown Algae
Photo Credit: Green Light Images

 

Here’s the stuff you commonly see on the beach and around marinas across the UK. For me, the coolest brown algae is kelp. If you’re an avid viewer of nature documentaries, you’ve probably seen huge kelp forests. These underwater forests are incredibly important, hugely dynamic and productive ecosystems. Kelps can grow up to 18 inches a day, which is just mindboggling. Roughly 2000 species of brown algae are currently known. Another order, Fucales, are commonly found along rocky shores within intertidal zones. Usages for phaeophyta include edible seaweed as well as the extraction of alginic acid for food thickening agents. There are some inventive names for brown algae too – Bladders wrack (Fucus vesiculosus) and Oarweed (Laminaria digitata) being my personal favourites.

The Rhodophyta (Red Algae)

 

Red Algae
Photo Credit: Peter Southwood 2012

By far the prettiest of the bunch. Phycoerythrin and phycocyanin are the two pigments causing the red colouration of rhodophyta, by masking their other pigments, including chlorophyll-a. These corals have a number of commercial uses, including animal feed, with over 500,000 tonnes being harvested every year. Coralline algae – an important group belonging to the rhodophyta – have even been utilised in bone-replacement therapies! These rhodophyta  can be integral for coral reef formation as they secrete a calcium carbonate, much like corals do. Despite all the red algae’s being a wonder to look at, the geliriums take the prize for me.

So there you have it, a brief introduction to the three major phylums of marine algae. Next time you’re sauntering along the beach and notice a mound of green and brown foliage (maybe even some red if you’re lucky), don’t think of how grotesque and slimy it looks, remember how integral it is to all of our lives.

 

Sorry It Took So Long…

Once again I have been missing from the blogosphere for far longer than anticipated. An amalgamation of carrying out dissertation research, packing up to go home for the summer and generally stressing about what I want to do when I graduate next year has taken its toll. As much as I love being at university, I am well and truly ready to go home and recharge.

When you first come to university, you’re so overwhelmed by the prospect of the following three years that often you don’t think about what you’re going to do with your life when this rollercoaster of emotions is all over. For me, the first two years of my life at university have been challenging on a personal level, with there being a lot of hurdles that I have had to overcome – whether that be mental health issues or relationship problems, amongst others. It’s safe to say that I feel more independent and secure within myself than I’ve ever been. Before university I hadn’t really experienced ‘life’, leading me to make a number of mistakes when I first came here. Although many people would love to take back their mistakes, I’m glad I’ve made them, because they’ve taught me more about myself – I guess if there’s something you don’t like, work toward changing it day by day.

Gradually, I’m becoming more like the old me, and to be honest I liked that girl. For the past two years I haven’t really been able to recognise myself, but thankfully I feel as though my life is getting back on track just when it matters most. Unfortunately, that may mean my academic performance has slipped drastically below what I would expect of myself, but hopefully I will have a chance in the coming year to bring it back. Now I feel more like myself, I can finally focus my energy on my aspiring career of becoming a marine biologist and scientific communicator.

It always seems to me, that through everything in life you gain a lesson. That’s how I see the past two years of my life – a number of mistakes, gifted with lessons that I can use to make my future life better than it is right now. Everything is temporary. It may be temporary for five minutes, a couple of months, or a few years, but eventually it will be over – try and remember that next time you make a mistake. Your mental health and sense of wellbeing aren’t worth sacrificing over something that you can’t change.

When you’re a teenager and your parents whittle on about ‘being true to yourself’ along with other cringy sayings, you don’t think they know what they’re talking about. Funny thing is, with hindsight, most of the advice my parents told me was true, I just wish I wasn’t too stubborn to listen. Anyway, enough of the philosophical version of myself for now. In just under three weeks time, I will be learning how to dive off the coast of Sal, Cape Verde – which just so happens to be the only thing getting me through waiting for my equipment to calibrate. As for now, the blog should return to it’s normal schedule from July 7th! But for the moment, I’m stuck in the lab measuring barley plants.

Hannah x

The Rarest Marine Mammal in the World

On Friday the 19th May, as it was Endangered Species Day, copious amounts of information regarding the importance of safeguarding populations of the world’s endangered species could be found all over social media. As usual, the most notable species featured were the elephants, tigers and rhino species of the world. Without disregarding their importance – for example, the conservation of African elephants is a cause I hold very dear to my own heart – there exists a plethora of other, incredibly threatened species, that are on the verge of extinction and you may be completely unaware of their existence.

For example, are you aware of the rarest marine mammal in the world? You could probably guess that it’s a cetacean. Becoming entangled in vast fishing nets, ingesting plastic and being targeted by illegal fishing operations, all pose major threats to cetacean species around the world. Principally for the species in question here, is the threat of fishing nets. Once entangled in fishing nets, this little porpoise is often unable to free itself, and therefore becomes trapped and suffocates to death – as cetaceans are mammals, they are unable to breathe without coming up to the surface for air.

The vaquita is the rarest marine mammal in the world, and there’s a high chance you don’t even know what it looks like. With an estimated population of only 30 individuals remaining, this tiny porpoise is on the edge of extinction. Worse than that to me, is that this species, like plenty of others across the globe, will fall into extinction with many people blissfully unaware of its existence in the first place. We have only known of the vaquita’s existence since it’s discovery in 1958, yet less than a century later it is already slipping through our fingers. Hardly known to science due to its preference for travelling individually or with a partner, rather than in a large pod like other cetaceans, vaquitas can be difficult to find.

But why have population numbers dropped by half for the past nine years? Declines within the vaquita population have been attributed to the increased trade of swim bladders of the endangered totoaba fish. As illegal fishing practices have heightened in the Gulf of Mexico for the harvesting of the totoaba’s swim bladder, the elusive vaquita has quite literally become trapped in this affair. Efforts by the Mexican government to ban the usage of these nets and in some cases, to try to persuade fishermen to not fish within the vaquita’s range by paying them off, do not appear to have worked.

Opinions from experts vary on the future of the vaquita, with many stating that they believe only captivity will protect its future. There are obviously mixed opinions on the potential of captivity safeguarding a species future, as a captive environment can have detrimental impacts on the psychology and health of individuals – infamously, the psychotic behaviour displayed by killer whales, such as Tilikum, at SeaWorld facilities. Despite this, the potential of captivity in terms of breeding programmes with the hope of reintroduction into the wild in the future is undeniable. In the case of the vaquita, captive breeding programmes may be the only hope for the survival of their species.

On the flip side, unfortunately other scientists believe that all attempts at saving the future of this species have failed. An article from April 2017 details that although capturing the remaining individuals may be their only hope, it is also feared that there may be only several individuals left – despite their official population being estimated at 30 individuals. That said, it could potentially take years for scientists to confirm this, and by then, it will almost certainly be too late.

There have been spectacular efforts to save the vaquita, with the President of Mexico stating that “even if there is only one vaquita left, we will do everything we can”. But it seems to me that, as in most cases, ‘everything’ is not enough. Tragically, the vaquita will be lost, or may have already been lost, due to direct impacts by human activities. Throughout our lifetimes we will certainly hear of similar stories for a multitude of other species if we do not try to take action now, whilst populations of other species are relatively stable.

If there is anything we can take from the devastating loss of the vaquita for conservationists and environmental-enthusiasts globally, it is that acting now, rather than when the situation becomes dire, is almost certainly the way to rescue species from the brink of extinction.

#MyWildDiary Second Year Reflections

Underneath the torment of my exams, I regret to say that I had almost completely forgotten about the existence of this blog. In fact, it seems the thought of it hadn’t crossed my mind for almost a month – I must admit, I didn’t realise that much time had elapsed, how time flies when your head is buried in a book…

Over the course of the past 30 days, I have been both incredibly stressed and tired, yet also quite excited about the future and the coming months. As someone who never does well at exams, no matter how hard they try, exam period is like my version of living hell – (over 60 hours spent on cell biology revision, yet I walked out of the exam 1/3rd of the way through). The impending doom of discovering how much my average has suffered is nail biting stuff, but alas life’s too short to be worrying about things that can be rectified.

Something’s changed this year in comparison to previous summers. I’m a lot more relaxed and content with myself this year than I’ve ever been before. The realisation that I’m not going to die and that the world shall not end if I don’t pass these exams might have something to do with that feeling. Maybe it’s part of growing older, but my feelings of anxiety seem to have dissipated to a certain extent. I’ve come to realise that almost everything is fixable. You can get to where you want to be. It may take you longer than expected, and you may not follow the exact path you wanted to, but you’ll get there. Perseverance is key.

Recently, I’ve discovered this overwhelming motivation to do things. The next few weeks are immensely busy – on top of my dissertation work and a part-time job, I’ve also got a volunteering placement with Heysham Nature Reserve in Lancashire as well as at my university, and plans to visit the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool for research seminars. On top of this, I’m back to my editorial position on the Lancaster University BLS blog and I’ve applied for a marine internship that I’d be thrilled to get – fingers crossed!

It seems to me that I’ve started becoming proactive in making my ambitions a reality. No longer am I just sitting in bed all day, watching Blue Planet and dreaming of being a scientific broadcaster and scientist, but I’m actually researching and taking the necessary steps for that to be my life one day. Like many students, I’ve gone through periods of depression and anxiety, and to feel like I’m coming to the end of that, is genuinely a fantastic feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my off days, but I feel like I’m somewhat in control of that now.

Of course, there is also the tremendous task of writing articles for this blog. Over the coming months, I have a number of ideas and plans that I want to curate for my website. I’ve been busy diligently contacting NGOs and scientists who I admire and am inspired by their work, who hopefully will work with me. The world of environmental science and conservation is continually changing and improving, and sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all of the developments. As someone who is a bit of a geek, (actually a massive geek), when it comes to the environment, I’m so excited to share with you the ideas I have and hopefully inspire you to go out there and do your bit for the environment this summer.

Hannah x

(P.S How cool is the cover photo? I found it on Google and just thought it was the coolest thing)