A biweekly round-up of news and trends important to the AltaSea community.
The mystery of the Bermuda Triangle may have finally been explained. Scientists in Norway have found giant underwater craters that were likely the result of sudden explosions from built up methane gas. These explosions would have caused the gas to rapidly rise and mix with water, creating hazardous conditions on the sea and causing ships to sink (check out the article for a cool video). If you’re a fan of conspiracy theories there is still some good news: the craters don’t explain why airplanes have gone missing.
Robotic probes are critical to monitoring our oceans, especially waters too rough for ships. Oceanographers are currently using data from 3,900 floats that sink to depths of up to 2,000 meters, measuring temperature and salinity. Researchers from the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling Project (SOCCOM) are taking the floats to the next level, deploying 200 advanced probes that can measure several indicators of water chemistry and biological activity. Additionally, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is working to send out more specialty floats that can descend as far as 6,000 meters. The new data will provide more insight into ocean currents and the effects of climate change.
New Galápagos Sanctuary has World’s Highest Abundance of Sharks (National Geographic)
The Galápagos Islands have long been recognized for their unique biodiversity, with 97% of the landmass protected. But less than one percent of the surrounding water was protected, a glaring oversight that has resulted in overfishing in the area. Now, Ecuador has protected an enlarged area of the ocean around the islands – a move that will also protect their economy. The nation relies on income from tourism to the Galápagos, and a study from the University of California found that each shark is worth $5.4 million over its lifetime thanks to the diving and tourism industry.
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Unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) help explore parts of the ocean unwelcoming to humans, but they require a ship nearby to recharge every few days. Boeing has created a new UUV that doesn’t need support from a surface ship, dramatically reducing its operating cost. The Echo Voyager has a built-in diesel generator that can recharge the ship’s lithium-ion batteries, giving it a groundbreaking 7,500-mile range − enough to go from San Francisco to Hong Kong. When it’s ready, the ship floats to the surface to recharge, allowing the exhaust to escape into the air. Sea trials will begin off the coast of California this summer.
Though revealed a year ago, this algae canopy has had a recent resurgence on social media and was too cool not to share. The “Urban Algae Canopy” consists of three layers of a special plastic and harnesses the properties of microalgae organisms. When the sun shines intensively the algae photosynthesize and grow, reducing the transparency and creating shade for those underneath. The algae also produces oxygen at the equivalent of four hectares of woodland every day. Now that’s a cool canopy.
Biodegradable Gillnets Could Help Rid the Ocean of Ghost Fishing (Conservation Magazine)
Traditional nylon fishing nets are a scourge of the sea. Abandoned nets account for 640,000 tons of plastic pollution in the ocean and continue to trap not only fish but seabirds and mammals in a phenomenon known as ghost fishing. Enter a new biodegradable net. But getting fishermen to adopt the new nets requires that they function as well as traditional ones. To their surprise, researchers testing them found that not only did they perform just as well, they also caught less young fish and bycatch. The only downside is though biodegradable, the nets still take two years to begin to rot.
Attendees at South by Southwest got to participate in Cry Out: The Lonely Whale Experience with motion sensor chairs and HTC Vive virtual reality (VR). The three-minute piece follows the journey of whale “52” − so named for the 52-hertz frequency the whale communicates with that isn’t heard by other whales − and exposes viewers to how pollution is impacting whales and other marine creatures. The VR provides a 3D experience, while the chairs add a fourth dimension: touch. Creator Adrian Grenier, lead actor in the TV series Entourage, wanted to use the technology that would connect with audiences in a different way. “The ocean is often out of sight, out of mind, and so far away that it’s someone else’s problem.” Grenier said, “But the reality is it’s all of ours…so we have to know it in order to know what to do to protect it.”
Proving it’s never too early to start ocean education, some of the youngest learners are getting the opportunity to explore shapes, colors and textures with popular tide pool resident the sea star. This Parent & Me class includes exploration, an animal encounter and an activity designed for toddlers. The Ocean Institute hosts the 6-week series as part of its mission to maximize immersion, spark curiosity and inspire a deep commitment to learning.
Long Beach Aquarium Plans New Wing and ‘Immersive Theater’ by 2018 (Los Angeles Times)
A $53 million expansion is planned for the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. The new space will include architectural lines that evoke the shape of a blue whale as well as an “immersive theater” with a high definition projection system and curved screen designed to simulate ocean and coastal environments. The theater’s seats will help bring the experience to life by adding simulated vibrations, fog, wind gusts and scents. The expansion is set to open in 2018.
Commercial Crab Season to Begin as Toxin Levels Drop (San Francisco Chronicle)
Crab lovers rejoice! Crab will soon be back on the menu after California lifted the commercial fishing ban. Health officials determined the crabs “no longer pose a significant human health risk.” The crabs had been hosting dangerously high levels of domoic acid, a potentially deadly neurotoxin caused by algae blooms, earlier in the year. Public health officials continue to urge caution though, warning consumers not to eat internal organs or use the liquid the crabs are cooked in for broths or sauces.