Serving You Some Ocean Positivi-tea: Ocean News from the Year 2020 You May Have Missed

Updated: Jul 21, 2021


Without a doubt, 2020 has been a heart-breaking year for us all.


A chain of tragic events that will now forever be a part of history. Instead of Coachella, we got Couch-Ella, and Facetime compared to face-to-face time. - However, not all of 2020 was full of sadness.


This article highlights some of the positive research and ocean conservation news you may have missed!



Ocean Justice


Marine Biologist, Dr Ayanna Elizabeth Johnson, cast light on ocean justice - the meeting of ocean science and social equity, regarding racial injustice and gender equality. When we think about who is often near environmental crisis’ it is often the poorest and the most vulnerable that face the greatest impacts: Communities of colour.


Dr Johnson’s work addresses the concerns of social inclusion of both, race and gender. While being Founder and President of Ocean Collectiv, she has released a podcast called How to Save a Planet, co-edited the anthology All We Can Save, on bringing female voice to the centre of a male-dominated conversation, and co-founded the All We Can Save Project. The power of her writing and voice is not one to be missed!


Last year, many campaigns came together to celebrate Black representation in marine science. The amazing work and contribution of underrepresented groups became evident during the campaign, #BlackInMarineScienceWeek, inspiring young people to pursue a career in the field.




Amazing Records


In 1984, a former NASA astronaut named, Kathy Sullivan made history and ventured to become the first woman to walk in space. June of last year, she became the first woman to dive to the deepest known point in the ocean, the Challenger Deep. Challenger Deep is located West of the Pacific Ocean, south of Mariana’s Trench and is 36,200 ft deep which close to 7 miles! Famous undersea explorer, Victor Vivesco funded the expedition, where they both spent up to 2 hours in a 2-seater submersible, eating lunch, in an environment that seemed to be otherworldly. Kathy Sullivan is the woman that has been above, below and beyond.


Another record break from last year was made by a man named, Bill Lambert. He has claimed a Guinness World Record for being the oldest person to scuba dive at 100 years old. He successfully completed a 12 metres dive for 27-minutes in a local lake in Illinoi. He began diving at age 98 and his next goal is to beat the record again when he turns 101 years old this year!




Technology


Sadly, it does come as news that the climate of this planet is deteriorating along with some of the beautiful marine life in our oceans. According to scientists, up to 50% of the worlds coral reefs have been lost in the last 30 years and are estimated to decline further. However, technology today gives hope of restoring these diverse habitats.


Architects and marine scientists at Hong Kong University have designed 3D printed, hexagonal terra cotta tiles to be used for coral restoration. They provide a structurally complex foundation for coral to attach themselves to. Currently, 128 tiles (each measuring 2 ft) have been placed in 3 distinct sites in Hong Kong with 3 species of spawning coral where there has been severe coral loss. These will be monitored over time, where the researches will record progress. These “reef tiles” provide a safe and eco-friendly alternative to metal and concrete, as these will eventually erode and leave behind healthy coral.


Another impressive technological advancement for marine life is the new AI system for retrieving data for boats to avoid collisions with whales. On the West Coast of the US, whale numbers have plummeted over the years and a large reason for the decrease in populations is from boat collisions. This was created by the University of California’s Benioff Ocean Initiative, along with multiple collaborators, launched Whale Safe. Whale Safe uses AI and whale detection technologies to detect, record and process the acoustic sounds from whales to be sent in real-time to vessels in the area to inform them when there is a risk of collision.


An exciting project in development is the worlds first living “coral biobank”, aiming to protect over 800 hard coral species to preserve coral biodiversity. Great Barrier Reef Legacy, Corals of the World and Cairns Marine have partnered together to build this facility which will be located in Port Douglas in North Queensland. The collection of these corals is underway with the planned timeline for the facility to be built in 2026. This project of a “coral ark” will undoubtedly bring together people and scientists.




New Discoveries and Marine Mindblowers


For the first time, scientists have genetically identified the larvae of the giant sunfish (Mola alexandrine). This may seem small for some, but scientists have known that the fecundity of the sunfish is very large, potentially producing ~300 million individuals per spawn, however, there has never been one identified…until now. These large fish can reach up to 3.3 m and the larvae found was 5 mm! This specimen was collected from New South Wales Coast in Australia in 2017 and DNA analysis was conducted last year. Understanding their larval form and growth brings us closer to protecting this vulnerable species.


Last year, we also dived deeper into the clever cells of octopus arms responsible for taste. It has been known for a while now that octopus arms possess taste receptors but only last year they began looking into how. The cluster of cells found on the suckers has receptors that respond to touch and some that respond to “taste”. These taste receptors react differently to different chemicals. These receptors decide whether or not something is worth catching, without having to communicate with the brain. The octopus can blindly search and autonomously catch prey that is attractive to them.


There has also been a discovery of penguin colonies in Antarctica. 11 new colonies of emperor penguins have been found using satellite technology, “pushing the estimated 5-10% bird population to more than half a million”, explained by BAS geographer, Dr Peter Fretwell. These grounds are now known to be under strict observation while climate change is still a danger to species that live amongst the sea ice.




Recovery


We also discovered good news from the presence of populations in areas where some species have been scarce. The pandemic caused a huge decrease in the amount of maritime traffic in the ocean, potentially encouraging populations to go back to where they once thrived. For example, there were amazing videos of whales and dolphins swimming in the North Adriatic Sea.


Another example was the arrival of hawksbill turtles in Koh Samui, Thailand. Endangered hawksbill and green turtle nests emerged along the beach after nearly 5 decades of not being seen due to pollution and human activity. Conservationists believe that the disappearance of tourists have made these turtles return.




Summary


It was the year we all woke up. We woke up to the enormity of climate emergency.


To live alongside a thriving, natural environment we must begin to change. We take advantage of the environment around us daily and the sudden stop of our normal behaviour has been eye-opening for many people, on the extent of our impact.


Although, 2020 was supposed to be the “environmental super year”, we still have 2021 to really make a difference.




Written by Elise Poore

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