Big Test Coming Up

My poor car. It has been subjected to smokers. Their nasty habit has caused odors to adhere to all the interior surfaces, especially the fabric and the carpeting. It felt like an old car by now with a previously smoking owner.  She is begging me for a good wash. Doing the exterior is not the answer. You deal with the inside in a different manner. Why did I drive those classmates home? We were studying late, and it was starting to drizzle. We had a big test coming up and thought a group session would help us absorb the material more efficiently. It worked. We felt really prepared. Nonetheless, I faced the consequences of the smokers. I was no longer nervous about the test. Now I was pissed about my car. I had to get that gross smoke smell out of my car!

Because I don’t smoke myself I didn’t have a hanging deodorizer in the car. They do a pretty good job, but now it was too late, or was it. I bought some “odor defense” spray and used half the bottle. The car smelled good for a week and then a telltale odor came back. It was less intense but nonetheless annoying. I wanted the freshness to return as before.  I took it to the car wash and they sprayed it again. It just replaced one scent for another, albeit the lemon flavor wasn’t bad. I bought some just in case (although I was not planning on volunteering to drive anyone ever again).

I had to get a bit more resourceful and found nothing online other than the obvious. Spray, spray and more spray. Now it was starting to add up to a big expense. I should have asked my smoking friends to chip in. Ha! Seriously, I couldn’t stand it. Most non-smokers don’t tolerate the smell. One person in a car is bad enough; image four puffing away the entire time! I just kept on surfing the Web.

Eureka! I hit upon an idea all on my own. I guess thinking about ridding my car of smells made my brain cells churn. I ran to the kitchen pantry and grabbed a large candle I use in case of electricity blackouts during a storm or other emergency situation. I put it in the car and lit it up right then and there. The flame flickered in all its glory. I let it burn as I watched it quiver. I didn’t want to leave it alone. After an hour, I put it out and waited for the results. No more cigarette smoke odor.  Candles are great at deodorizing. They don’t have to be heavily scented. Is this like lighting a match in a bathroom after use. It seems like magic. No, it emits sulfur dioxide that just masks the smell. A candle would do far better.

Fun Night for a Great Cause

As a marine biology student, I am all ears when it comes to ocean conservation—or anything to do with the sea. I not only study the problem of extinct species and waste dumping and hope to find a solution, but I also volunteer for various organizations that share my concern. I seek out people of like mind, so we can work together to make some progress in this noteworthy field. It is all about promoting the cause in any way we can and raising money and community interest. One friend in this category had an outdoor viewing party to show a short film she made on marine life and preservation. I loved the idea and thought it would be a great fundraiser. When you combine an evening of fun and refreshments with a worthy cause, it is the recipe for success. Make sure the weather is fine and the setting is comfortable.

The event was perfect, held on a balmy summer night. The turnout was impressive, and we had tables of literature strategically placed on her patio. If you wandered in off the street by accident, you would definitely know what was up. If not, a volunteer would soon gain your attention. Another friend made a short speech to charge up the audience and get them ready for the film. My friend did a great job in a ten-minute short subject and the response was very positive. It was easy to show the film in her large yard with the help of a projector and some portable wireless outdoor speakers. You can buy them in many stores and online at cost-effective prices. She bought a set for future use as filmmaking is her passion, especially with ocean conservation as the focal point. You can approach the subject from many angles: from the beachcomber to the sea creature swimming off shore. She used a voice over to enliven the beautiful images. It was a fun night for a great cause.

My heart is definitely in her work and I hope to help fund some of her short films in the near future. She likes the idea of collaboration and an exchange of ideas. She could see us going in new directions that would highlight the wonders of the deep and at the same time promote conservation. One of the next films will be about over fishing certain species and the need for coastal regulation in some areas where extinction is imminent. This happens all over the world where laws are lax. While she doesn’t want to attack anyone’s livelihood, a discussion of the problem in these key areas is vital.

If you are interested in conservation of our sea creatures and maintaining the ecosystems around the world, join me again for a glimpse at someone’s life in the pursuit of improvement. If enough of you jump on the band wagon with me, we can make at least a small dent in an enormous problem.

Awesome Day at the Tide Pool!

I love going to the tide pool on a field trip with other students. It is a time to observe and take note of the mysteries of nature. But it is also an inspiration for me and a source of great joy, fueling my existing passion for my eventual careers. There are so many unique sea creatures in the water’s depths many of which come to the surface to greet our arrival. One of the pleasures of studying to be a marine biologist is getting out in the field. It just so happens that the “field” is a place along the shore.

When we go together, each one of us is assigned a specific piece of equipment such as a laptop, sample collection gear and an underwater camera. I like to take my business backpack along to carry as much as I am able. It is open and roomy in design and I love its general appearance. Even though it is called a business backpack, I have decorated it with images of fish and assorted sea life. The embroidery of a small seahorse is my pride and joy. I can always identify my bag from a great distance. I don’t mind getting sand in the crevasses as it is a record of where I have been.

It was an awesome day at the tide pool. I have been there before but it doesn’t mean that I have fully explored it. Each time I go I am surprised at something I find. It is an endless source of study. The other students all agree. We live in the same sphere of interest. We will all go out and make our mark in the field someday. Meanwhile, we are building memories as we advance our collective knowledge. We bring home samples for further scrutiny. We all end up in the lab with our specimens under the microscope.

I hope I never wear out this wonderful backpack decorated by me. It is a testimony to my love of the ocean environment. I want it as a souvenir of my youthful days when taking exams and memorizing species was the order of the day. If it is no longer suitable for my future jobs, I will stow it away in the closet, complete with telltale sand. There is nothing like your student days when a day at the tide pool is a routine event. I am fortunate to live near the beach. It is a place of fun and frolic and also of in-depth knowledge. The two go hand in hand. I can’t sit on the sand or surf the waves without taking time to contemplate this magnificent world. I expect to work on a boat or at an aquarium at the very least. There will be no question of a desk job for me. I chose this vast area of study for a good reason.

Less Mercury, Please!

Mercury in fish can be a serious health concern and deter people from eating such a lean and healthy protein. Why is there mercury in fish in the first place, and are there some that are worse for you than others?

For starters, mercury is a metal that exists naturally in the environment and it is toxic. We also accidentally help add it to the environment through various manufacturing processes and through burning fossil fuels. Other common sources are through forest fires, weathering of rocks containing mercury, or even volcanos! When mercury combines with water, it becomes methylmercury.

Once it is in the water, it starts negatively impacting the aquatic life. It infects everything and impacts the entire food chain. It contaminates the bacteria and other food sources that herbivorous fish eat. It also finds its way into the plankton and invertebrates that other fish eat. This, in turn, means that the food sources of piscivorous fish (the fish that eat other fish) contain methylmercury as well. And every single time a fish eats something containing methylmercury, it is absorbed into the new fish. Since methylmercury has a half life of nearly three and a half months in aquatic life, and it accumulates every single time a food source is contaminated, creatures higher up on the food chain are especially susceptible to very high levels of methylmercury – much, much higher than what is in the water around them.

And I’m not just talking fish, either. Birds absorb the methylmercury in fish and shellfish if it is part of their diet. Other sea animals like otters are exposed the same way. The same thing goes for people, too. Pretty much the only way people can be exposed to methylmercury is through eating contaminated fish or other aquatic food sources. It can cause serious kidney or cardiovascular damage, as well significant birth defects if a woman is pregnant or becomes pregnant while methylmercury is in her bloodstream – and the half-life in humans is nearly three months! In other words, it’s something you really want to avoid.

So, how do you know what fish to avoid eating? The question is how high up the food chain it is. Tilefish from Mexico, swordfish, marlin, shark, bigeye tuna, and some types of mackerel, are essentially top of the food chain and therefore very high in methylmercury.

Knowing this information shouldn’t scare you off of fish altogether, however. There are plenty of options that are OK to eat, especially if you eat them in moderation. Safer choices are scallops, clams, tilapia, salmon, and pollock. The older and larger a fish, the more methylmercury you can assume it has. Also, the higher the omega-3 fatty content in the fish, the less methylmercury it seems to have. As an added bonus, omega-3s are very good for you, too!

If you want to learn more about this, check out the Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector, which can tell you how many meals you can eat containing fish per week and remain under accepted methylmercury levels.

Beach Clean Up

Rosie here, the marine biology student. I love sea creatures all kinds. Anything that lives in the depths is my focus. They fascinate me and form the subject of my studies. Fish are my passion and I eventually hope to be an aquarist in a fabulous aquarium. More are springing up across the U.S. as interest is growing. Some are large and state of the art like Monterrey California. A new one was built recently in Scottsdale, Arizona—hardly an area related to the coast. It will make my job hunting much easier as I will have ample choices. Imagine the joy of taking care of all species and assorted marine life as a job. How did I get so lucky to select his amazing field! If any of you readers are fellow travelers, I want to know. I treasure the opportunity to share stories. I am bound and determined to save the ecosystem. Knowing how important fish are makes my career that much more rewarding. Protecting aquatic environments is mandatory.

Doing research is a way to improve matters worldwide. I hope more and more students undertake the same studies. We need all the help and expertise we can get. Sometimes, I just do small things in my area that show my concern like spending a day at the beach cleaning up. It is amazing what sunbathers and swimmers leave behind unintentionally or not. I use a metal detector from https://www.findingafortune.net/ to uncover debris covered by the sand. It took me a while to get the hang of it. In fact, it took ages to find the right one. I read many reviews and was warned not to get something too basic as I would grow out of it. I knew I would be able eventually to handle more sophisticated technology. It is the difference between finding a crumpled tin can and a coin. The greater the sensitivity and frequency, the more likely you will locate items of all sizes and value. It is not about money, of course, but keeping a natural environment pristine. People do not respect nature’s playgrounds whether it be a park, forest, beach, or lake. You find trash everywhere. I wouldn’t be so irate if it were a matter of a quarter falling out of a pocket. It is aluminum soda cans, plastic water bottles, paper wrapping, and beach toys. It’s okay in my book to find keys, a money clip, a penknife, or a can opener. I can see someone forgetting this stuff.

I hope to inspire readers who live near the coast to volunteer for cleanup work. Let’s keep America beautiful. There is something magical about the coast and the creatures who are found in the environs. Don’t spoil the spell by leaving trash. Litter is the enemy of nature’s bounty. Keep it in the trash cans found on every beach. It is your responsibility as it is mine.

Protect The Environment

Saving the world’s oceans seems like a daunting task, one too intimidating to even start. But what if I told you that there are things that you and I can do, some of which are pretty easy, that would make a difference?

The first thing on my list is pretty simple: reduce your impact. Install things like energy efficient lightbulbs to reduce your energy consumption (less energy = less pollution from burning of fossil fuels to make energy = less global warming and slowing the rate that ocean temperatures are rising and killing fish) and recycle or reuse plastic (or opt for something else) whenever possible. It takes so long to break down that plastic can wind up anywhere, including in the ocean!

The next thing for you to remember is that ALL waterways goes to the ocean, whether you live near a body of water or not! So no dumping medications down the drain. Use less, and more environmentally friendly, cleaners and chemicals whenever possible. That includes the stuff you use to clean things inside your home, vehicles like boats or cars, and even what types of chemicals you put on your plants! The chemicals you use wind up in your home plumbing systems or are washed into storm drains and wind up in our oceans and rivers.

Next, clean up after yourself and your pets. Don’t litter, especially on beaches and when you’re boating. Most trash that ends up in the ocean started out on land—so don’t let that trash come from you! Picking up after your pets also ensures that harmful bacteria doesn’t get washed into the storm drains as well. If you’ve got some extra time, volunteer at a litter pickup or beach cleanup. You’ll feel great afterward and it will serve as a good reminder what happens when you litter or don’t pick up after yourself!

Lastly, be considerate of marine life! Be careful when you are boating, snorkeling, surfing, or any other maritime activities. Don’t ever touch coral or disturb or feed the creatures you see. And never remove them from their habitats! Take pictures if you want to remember them, but leave them be. Don’t buy products that use bad practices or exploit the oceans! That includes when you are looking for something to eat – make sure your fish was captured in a sustainable way without harming other species in the process. You can check websites like the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch or the Marine Stewardship Council to know what is responsibly caught and what should be avoided.

See, these things don’t seem so bad, do they? If every one of us did these little things, there would be a huge ripple effect across the world and our oceans would be a healthy and clean environment for all of us to enjoy!

Why do Salmon Swim Upstream? (and other cool stuff)

Fish are weird. We’ve got smart fish like anglerfish, who have developed bioluminescent light to trick prey into basically coming right into their mouths, archerfish who squirt water with seemingly perfect aim to knock bugs into the water for a snack, the sheepshead fish that has teeth eerily resembling a human’s so that they can eat pretty much whatever they want, and then there’s the parrotfish — which covers itself in mucus when it sleeps to help itself heal and protect itself, and it poops sand.

But today, I wanted to talk a little about a fish that is a little less exotic than those guys. Let’s talk about something that may find its way onto your dinner plate: the salmon.

First, let’s talk about their awesome pink color. Salmon aren’t naturally pink, they’re white. As a matter of fact, if you eat farm-raised salmon, they probably put coloring in their food to turn them that way, not because it makes them taste better but because you, as the consumer, expect it (it’s true, they even have something called a SalmoFan to help salmon farmers determine the most profitable colors). Salmon turn pink for the same reason flamingos turn pink: it is a natural reaction to eating krill and shrimp. There’s a compound in krill and shrimp called astaxanthin, and when you eat enough of it, it turns you pink. Alaskan sockeye salmon, because they feed off the huge population of krill in the Bering Sea, are naturally the most pink of all salmon species.

OK, now that we’ve talked about appearance, let’s talk about behavior. Salmon are also kind of weird. You probably already know that they swim upstream, and that seems kind of dumb. For one thing, it’s hard to do. It takes an awful lot of energy. And for another, they’re constantly jumping through the air and then being caught and eaten by bears. Seems like a waste, doesn’t it? So why do they do it?

Oddly, it actually helps them (and some other types of fish, like rainbow trout) survive.

First, these are fairly large fish. In order to keep the species alive, they can’t compete with the ones who are trying to grow up for food. Therefore, the younger fish swim downstream and follow the food. The ones who are big and mature enough to reproduce swim the other way to give the youngsters a chance to survive. Aww!

There’s another reason, too: upstream waters are calmer, which means the eggs will have a better chance of being fertilized and hatching. Downstream, the eggs could be eaten or even swept away before fertilization.Finally, once the eggs hatch and grow out of their yolk-feeding larval stage, their diet consists mostly of insects. And where do insects congregate? Slower water, like that found upstream! Doesn’t seem like such a dumb idea anymore, does it?

So how do the fish know to go upstream and where to stop? Believe it or not, they actually can smell it. They can smell the place where they were born and that’s where they travel back to. Sadly, all that upstream swimming and spawning is exhausting, and it kills the fish within about a week after they’ve done everything they need to. But again, being upstream is a blessing here. Once the mature fish die and start to decay, because their bodies aren’t swept away or eaten by something else, they provide a nutrient-rich environment for their babies to grow. Kind of gross but also very helpful!

The next time you’re eating salmon, think back on all this and marvel about how smart they really are!

Coral Reefs are Amazing

I am really looking forward to working with the public one day. Sure I can do research and there is so much potential for good there, but what really gets me excited is talking to other people about fish and ocean creatures. As a kid, whenever we visited an aquarium and got to hear the marine biologists talk about what they do and about the fish in their care, I thought they had the coolest job. I want that job!

I especially want to talk to people about coral reefs. I am sure that you’ve probably heard that coral reefs are disappearing and that they need to be protected. But you may not know what they are or why they’re so important. That’s something I really want to change, and since I don’t have my own aquarium job where I can speak to visitors and students (yet!!!) I am going to talk about it here!

Think of coral reefs like a huge underwater city for fish. The coral acts like apartment buildings!

I’m not going to get into the different types of reef (fringing, barrier, and atoll, for those who are curious) or how exactly the walls are formed. Because here is the important part: even in water that doesn’t have a lot of nutrients, coral can do OK for themselves. When they are larvae, they float all around looking for a hard place like submerged rock to attach themselves. They start attaching themselves to something and begin to grow up. Other coral latch on to the same place, and they do the same. Then they start reproducing. The area starts to expand with coral.

Once the “apartments” are there, other sea life can move in. Coral reefs are actually one of the most diverse ecosystems on our entire planet! Scientists believe that there could be up to 8 million species that we haven’t even discovered yet living in coral reefs in addition to the roughly 5,000 that we do know about. These reef communities provide fish and other sea life with food and shelter, helping them not only live somewhere they normally would not, but actually thrive.

Coral reefs are more than just something cool to see when you go snorkeling (although they are that). They actually help us out! They act as a barrier to protect nearby land against flooding and strong wave activity that would erode beaches. It also helps to keep nearby wetlands from drying out.

Unfortunately, coral reefs have lots of enemies. Mother nature, for one, can damage them with hurricanes that break apart coral. The lack of an ozone layer can expose sensitive coral to UV rays that dry them out and kill them. Global warming has also increased oceanic temperatures, which has killed off some coral. Toxic rain pollutes the water supply and can damage these amazing places. Reefs are hardy, and can often recover from a bad storm or two. But when you combine all these factors together, we’re asking too much of the coral and they often do not have ways to bounce back. That’s terrible for the fish, for the ocean, for us scientists who want to study them, but also every person on land who (often unknowingly) benefits from these amazing ocean cities.

Life Cycle of a Fish

When I was young, my parents took me to a carnival. There was the typical rides and games, and you needed tickets to do anything. My parents let me play a game where I could bounce a ping pong ball on a bunch of open fishbowls and if it landed on a colored one, I won a prize. I won the prize, and it turned out to be a goldfish.

Goldie, as he was called, was my first pet and my first experience with fish. Goldie didn’t last all that long – and I found out later that my parents had done that whole “replace the pet while she’s at school” bit at least once. But even if I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Goldie, he made a lasting impact on me and sparked my love of fish.

My parents, bless them, encouraged me. My mom took me to the library and let me check out the same book about taking care of fish. I knew that book by heart! There was one section on the life cycle of the fish, and I still remember it to this day. It’s actually pretty interesting.

Everyone knows that fish come from eggs. It’s kind of amazing how the process works, and that it even works at all! When they are spawning, female fish release eggs into the water. Depending on the species, they might have what’s considered a nest, but not all do. Male fish release something we call milt, which fertilizes some of the eggs.

Many eggs don’t even make it to maturity. Between environmental conditions, disease, and predators, most fish eggs don’t stand a chance. Those that do hatch feed from an attached yolk sack during their larval stage. Sounds kind of gross, doesn’t it? This helps fish survive, because unlike many other creatures, there are no parents around to care for them. Once the yolk sac is absorbed completely, the fish moves out of the larval stage and enters the fry stage.

That’s right, young fish are called fry!

Fry can find their own food sources and their whole job is to eat and grow. They’ll stay a fry for anywhere from a couple of months through about a year, depending on the species. If they make it past that, they become juvenile fish. This is essentially a fish’s tween years. Once they are able to reproduce, they become adults. For fish with short life spans, they can reach this mark in a year. Fish who live for longer periods, like the sturgeon, don’t hit this point until about 25.

It really is an interesting subject. There are so many things that have to work out just right in order for the egg to be fertilized, for it to survive long enough to hatch, then sustain themselves on the yolk sac as larva, and then somehow to make it through the fry and juvenile stage. One of the things I want to do is study these different variables and see what we can improve for fish whose species are threatened by extinction, especially those who play a large role in their habitat’s ecosystem.