Archive for the ‘Ocean & Water’ Category

How Are Cows and Purses Related to Sharks?

By August 17th, 2014 at 10:49 am | Comment

Look back at two shark citizen science projects featured on the SciStarter blog.

Want to learn about and protect sharks? We’ve got you covered!

 

Broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) in False Bay

Broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) in False Bay

Sharks often get a bad rap; they’re featured in the media as dangerous killers that prey upon helpless human beings and animals.  Although shark attacks occur, they are rare; and attempts to decrease the shark population to prevent attacks leads the ocean ecosystem down a dangerous path, because sharks are important members of the aquatic food chain.  Through education, observation in their natural habitat, and participation in citizen science projects dedicated to sharks, we can learn about and protect these misunderstood animals.  In that light, we featured two shark citizen science projects last year that deserve another read.

For some strange reason, some ocean animals have bovine names.  For example, there are sea cows (or manatees).  But did you know there are a family of sharks known as cow sharks?  The sevengill shark is one example of a cow shark, and Dr. Ashley Rose Kelly wrote about the Sevengill Shark Tracking Project, which was developed to monitor the rise of these particular cow sharks near San Diego.  You can find her blog post here.

In the aquatic world, a mermaid’s purse is not a fancy accessory; rather, it’s an egg case, or a case that surrounds the fertilized eggs of sharks and other fish.  Dr. Melinda T. Hough featured Shark Trust, a project that identifies and catalogs mermaid’s purses with the intention of protecting marine nurseries.  Read about the project here.

Image: Derekkeats, Wikimedia Commons.


About the Authors:

Dr. Ashley Rose Kelly is Assistant Professor of Communication,Networks, and Innovation at Purdue University. Kelly’s work is in the areas of science studies and science communication. You can find Ashley on Twitter as @ashleyrkelly

Dr. Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and communicator dedicated to sharing the inspiring stories of life science and helping the general public explore their world. She holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh for research into how antibiotics kill bacteria, was a policy fellow at the National Academy of Sciences, and is a published photographer. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science. Not content to stay in one place for very long, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, plotting her next epic adventure, or training for the next half marathon.

Rae Moore is the Managing Editor of the SciStarter and PLOS blogs. She studied Bioinorganic Chemistry as a graduate student at McGill University, and is currently the Undergraduate Chemistry Lab Coordinator at Harvard University.

Big Fish, Dainty Meals: Observing Shark Behavior with the New England Basking Shark Project

By August 16th, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Comment

Connect with others and learn about basking sharks with the New England Basking Shark project.

Want to learn about and protect sharks?  We’ve got you covered!

Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) off the Atlantic coast

Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) off the Atlantic coast

With abundant jellyfish and other gelatinous critters, the New England area is always a trendy place for a basking shark to go for a meal after a long day travelling. This is in fact a popular restaurant, not just with sharks but with many other species as well. “The whales, the tuna, the sharks, everybody comes up here to eat”,  jokes Carol “Krill” Carson, President of the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance (NECWA), a non-profit organization based in Massachusetts.

As such a great opportunity to find a large number of basking sharks and ocean sunfish could not be missed, in 2005 Carson created a network of beachcombers and boat enthusiasts to spot these magnificent fish whenever they decided to come to the surface; and The New England Basking Shark (NEBShark) and Ocean Sunfish Project was born. “We see basking sharks and ocean sunfish in our whale watching trips and people get very excited, so I thought it would be really nice to have people involved in a community sighting network, where they could participate by reporting their sightings of these deep sea fish,” says Carson. “The more eyes you have looking, the better your chances of finding them.”

As the NECWA is not a research organization, the main purpose for this sighting network is to get people connected with the unique wildlife in the area. Secondary to that – like a cherry on top of the cake – is the opportunity to gather data to better understand these big fish and then use that knowledge to help protect them.
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Is our thirst for energy killing the ecology of the Grand Canyon?

By August 8th, 2014 at 5:45 am | Comment

A new citizen science project invites volunteers to help study insect diversity in the Grand Canyon.

Christian Mehlfuhrer. A shot of the south side of Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River.

A shot of the south side of Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River.

Every night when she’s on the water, Gibney Siemion, a river expedition guide in the Grand Canyon, crouches at the edge of the Colorado River right on the line where the sand turns from wet to dry. Her equipment is rudimentary: a jar of grain alcohol poured into a plastic Tupperware with a glowing bar of black light perched on its edge. But this is an effective insect trap. Siemion, and citizen scientists like her, are using these traps in a 240 mile experiment to understand how energy demand and dams on the Colorado River are washing away key insect species.

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Jellywatch: Observing Blobs for Marine Ecology

By August 2nd, 2014 at 9:52 am | Comment

Turn your beach visit into marine ecology research on worldwide jellyfish populations.

Looking for more summertime citizen science projects? Find them here.

Sea nettle

Sea nettle

Between 2012 and 2013, power plants in Israel, Sweden, Scotland, Japan, and the U.S. were shut down unexpectedly, all for the same reason: jellyfish. Blooms of jellyfish abundantly swarmed in coastal waters and clogged water intake pipes, forcing plants to halt operations and clear the unwitting slaughter. More recently, headlines have heralded an upswing of jellyfish appearances, such as CNN’s “Jellyfish taking over oceans, experts warn,” and Nature News’  “Attack of the blobs.” Just last week, BBC News reported record numbers of jellyfish spotted on the Welsh coastline this summer. At first glance, these sightings appear to reflect a global increase in jellyfish populations, but scientific studies say that current data is too limited to make conclusions on the ecological effects of these gelatinous zooplankton.

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Marine Metre Squared: Ngā Tini o te Waitai (The Multitudes of the Sea)

By July 29th, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Comment

What lives along New Zealand’s shoreline? Find out, one square metre at a time, with Marine Metre Squared.

Looking for more summertime citizen science projects? Find them here.

Binoculars used as branding to ‘focus’ people in to a specific area.

Every now and again I come across a citizen science project that inspires me. Don’t get me wrong—most of the people I interview, whether they are counting butterflies, measuring the night sky or plotting the paths of ocean behemoths, are in some way stirring, and I am invariably intrigued (and sometimes enchanted) by what they are doing. But only a select few tap the roots of my early childhood aspirations for nature conservation and environmental research. Mothing was one of them. Firefly Watch, which involved intriguing blinking beetles, was another. Now we have Marine Metre Squared (Mm2). It’s difficult to say what makes it inspiring, but I think it has something to do with the enthusiasm the project owners show, how what they are studying reflects the wonder and diversity of life, and just how far the venture has penetrated public awareness. As I write more and more about citizen science, I think of this as a trifecta. When these three intersect a touch of magic is added—something that draws participants toward a lifelong vocation.

“The project is New Zealand based, we want to know what is happening in the New Zealand intertidal zones. However, we have had international visitors complete surveys on New Zealand beaches. It’s an interesting activity and a great way for tourists to explore the New Zealand seashore,” says Tessa Mills, a manager at the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre. “The Seashore ID Guides that we produce are very helpful for anyone joining the Mm2 project—they are taken home as souvenirs by many international visitors!”

A school group makes observations in a plot.

More than 700 people have registered, consisting of a combination of schools (46%), individuals (30%), families (14%), community groups (8%) and tertiary institutions (3%). This is shared equally between the north and south island. “Although not everyone is contributing data we expect that the data submission will grow over time. And the project can be adapted for preschool groups; for example playing eye-spy in a one-meter area. And although they may not be able to identify or count all the species, they may be able to choose one species to look for and count” says Sally Carson, the director of the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre. “Similarly we have had some very knowledgeable individuals say that they have spent almost three hours counting and identifying what is in their square.” To help evaluate the quality of the data collected, the Centre is asking participants to rate the scientific accuracy of the data collected as low, medium or high. That seems to be a unique addition to citizen science—rating the quality of the data you collect is an added element of verification.

The photographic Seashore Guides (Sandy, and Muddy and Rocky) have been incredibly popular with over 140,000 copies being distributed free of charge thanks to Mobil Oil New Zealand Ltd. At first glance, muddy and sandy shores appear barren, but look beneath the surface and you will find a rich diversity of life—as the Maoris say, “Ngā tini o te waitai.” Northern and Southern versions have been compiled to highlight New Zealand’s regional differences. The guides not only feature the plants and animals that live on the shore, but also illustrate the evidence that they leave at the surface; for example, the telltale burrow and volcanic mound of the mantis shrimp. The guide encourages visitors to act as detectives, and find out what lives there without disturbing the habitat.

Sally Carson displays a square meter quadrant.

“We often compare our meter squared quadrant to binoculars. It encourages people to focus on one area and look closer. They are always amazed at what they find,” says Carson. In New Zealand, as in most parts of the world, the coastline is accessible to so many people, yet many know very little about their seashore neighbors. Mm2 hopes this project will help facilitate a global shift towards guardianship of the local environment by the communities that understand the ecosystems they live in and interact with. “While this approach has huge potential, the transition must come with the tools and education to make real community guardianship of the environment successful, and Mm2 is an effective first step in the process,” says Carson. The partnerships that are developing between schools, scientists, community groups and families are key to the success of such an approach. Sounds like fertile soil for that trifecta.

Resources:
Mm2 Guide

Photo credits: Tessa Mills (top), Kimberley Collins (middle left), Sharron Bennett (bottom right)


Ian Vorster has a MS in Environmental Communications and most recently served as director of communications at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Prior to that he worked in the health communications field. Ian has served as a designer, writer, photographer, editor and project leader in the field of science, and now works freelance in a blend of these roles. You can see more of Ian’s work at dragonflyec.com.