Brave new efforts to explore the ocean’s depths
Only three people have ever been to the bottom of the ocean, and none of them were there for very long. In 1960, Swiss explorer Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy lieutenant Don Walsh rode in the bathyscaphe Trieste to the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, 35,797 feet below the surface of the ocean. They stayed for a few minutes and pretty much saw nothing.
It took more than 50 years to pass before explorer and world-famous filmmaker James Cameron would do it again, making a record-breaking solo dive to the same location in a custom-built submersible that he co-designed. Cameron stayed there for around three hours and made a film about it. No one has been back since.
The reason is simple physics: the pressures at those immense depths are so great, that developing a craft to go that deep and stay there for a long duration is immensely difficult.
Now, in a new collaboration between NASA’s JPL (in La Canada Flintridge, California), New York-based OceanX, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), a new vehicle called Orpheus is being constructed to go back and explore the ocean’s great depths in a way never before achieved.
Orpheus, named for the Ancient Greek god of the Underworld, will explore the Hadal Zone, the pitch-black part of our oceans below 18,000 feet. The brand-new prototype was recently tested at sea of Cape Cod. JPL is involved because it is this type of craft that might same day explore oceans like those on Jupiter’s moon Europa.
A well-done video was just released explaining the amazing new project.
Cabo Pulmo: a conservation success story. For now.
Regarded as one of the best diving spots on the planet, Cabo Pulmo in Baja California could have been a story of tragedy. Overfishing over the decades took a huge toll on fish populations in the mid-20th century. But in 1995, the Mexican government created a marine-protected area called Cabo Pulmo National Park, which prohibited commercial fishing. The result is one of the great success stories in conservation, with fish populations quadrupling in the last 25 years. One of the people responsible for Cabo Pulmo’s success is marine ecologist Octavio Aburto, who works now at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Aburto is also an avid photographer who has taken astounding photos of schools of fish at Cabo Pulmo.
The park is just one example among many showing the value of creating marine reserves around the world. California is a world leader in creating marine protected areas that work, bringing back a substantial amount of sea life including invertebrates, rockfish and pelagics. A paper put out this week shows how the green abalone are showing signs of recovery in no-take zones. And a 2018 report showed how fish and invertebrates are bigger and more abundant in the Channel Islands MPA.
Great white shark genome decoded
Few animals stir our emotions like the great white shark. The apex predator has been the star of many Hollywood films, most of which portray the animal – unfairly – as a voracious man-eater.
Now, scientists from Nova Southeastern University, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, and California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium have fully decoded the white shark genome, comparing it to those of other vertebrate animals like the whale shark and humans.
The shark’s genome is quite large — they have 41 pairs of chromosomes, compared to our 23 — and so far it has revealed some fascinating details about how this amazing creature has evolved, such as adaptations related to wound healing, large body size and long lifespans.
Another interesting finding: although it’s believed that sharks possess an unusually powerful sense of smell, very few olfactory receptor genes were found.
The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Bluff collapse captured on video
Some amazing video surfaced last week showing a massive section of a bluff collapsing onto the beach in Del Mar. The video was captured by Matt Burgess, with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Although the collapse was likely the result of the recent rainstorms, scientists say that similar signs of coastal erosion will occur with much greater frequency as climate change impacts the coast.
Despite their reputation for being prickly, cacti are a very hot commodity these days. Across the Southwest, they are being poached from public lands with alarming frequency.
Some, like the massive saguaros, have become a favorite of landscapers, who will pay as much as $100 a foot for one of the cartoonish succulents. In Arizona, where saguaros are being poached regularly, officials have hit on a new high-tech scheme to thwart would-be cactus thieves: microchips embedded in the cactus themselves.
In California, there have been numerous media accounts of succulent theft, including a ring of Chinese thieves who were busted for stealing 3,500 rare dudleya plants from coastal cliffs in California. The plants are in high demand in China and Korea where they can fetch $40 to $50 on the Asian market.
The global market for succulents, including cactus, is estimated to be worth tens of millions.