Lined sea anemones off Cape Ann by Alex Shure. http://www.shureunderwater.com/
Lined sea anemones off Cape Ann by Alex Shure. http://www.shureunderwater.com/
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A charming nightmare? With the lined sea anemone perspective matters.

Categories: Creature Features

Look at this tiny wonderland of delicate, star-shaped, fair-haired anemones – benignly filtering food from the water and setting a lovely ocean ambiance. They could be little whisks that a mermaid might use to make a soufflé. Peaceful, right? Wrong. These dudes are remorseless, parasitic death-bringers who drill into their hosts and eat all their food. Which makes me love them a lot, really.

These lined sea anemones (Edwardsiella lineata) spend part of their lives anchored to the bottom of the ocean, doing what most anemones do, sitting around and eating what the current brings them. Before that, however, when they are but wee larvae, they go on a search-and-destroy rampage of their favorite host, a ctenophore known as the sea walnut, or warty comb jelly. We have lots of ctenophores in New England – you can see them in action in this short video by Alex Shure. Ctenophores may seem pretty hardy in this big swarm, but they are no match for the larval lined sea anemone.

 

Jelly Attack! from Green Diver on Vimeo.

It’s not just what this tiny assassin does, it’s how. Mayhem is a polite word for it. As Casey Diederich, my favorite marine biologist for fact-checking blogs about demented goings-on in the ocean, points out:

“The parasitic larva kind of hangs out in/near the pharynx, part of the digestive cavity of the ctenophore, to steal its food. This means that it must have some way to evade digestion by the ctenophore. If you could evade digestion, why not just enter through the ctenophores mouth? Apparently, the parasitic larva burrows through the outside of the ctenophore, then migrates through the ctenophore’s mesoglea (the “jelly” found in  jellyfish, ctenophores, and other kinds of marine invertebrates), and canal system until it gets to the ctenophore’s gut/pharynx. WHAT??? Nature is a crazy motha.”

And, yes, “crazy motha” is a technical marine biology term.

This is probably not much fun for the ctenophore, which can play the unwilling host to several of these baby anemones at a time, but it’s not all bad news, depending on your perspective.

First of all, the parasitic infection prevents the comb jelly from thriving, and thus reduces its population over time. Ctenophores eat zooplankton, including tiny juvenile fish, like cod and flounder. So it’s possible that the parasitic action of the anemone is helping more of these little fish not get eaten and make it to adulthood. More food for us! In some places over half the local comb jellies are infected with the parasitic anemone.

Secondly – in the northeastern Atlantic, off the coast of Europe, these comb jellies are invasive, and really taking a toll on the native wildlife, so the lined anemones might be preventing even worse devastation to the fisheries in that neck of the ocean.

So, the anemones are the good guys? Well, hold on. The larval form of the lined anemone has been implicated as one of the animals that can cause the annoying “sea-bather’s eruption” – an itchy rash you get sometimes after you swim in the ocean. Also, given how successful they are at life in general, there is concern that the lined anemones themselves might become an invasive nuisance in the northeastern Atlantic.

I guess there are no easy conclusions to draw here. Still, I think it’s safe to say that if these types of animals had blood, the lined anemone’s would be cold. One cold-blooded, crazy motha.

Hurricane Katia moving up the East Coast in 2011. Image from NASA Earth Observatory.
Hurricane Katia moving up the East Coast in 2011. Image from NASA Earth Observatory.
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Business as usual meets the new normal: climate change and fisheries management

Categories: CLF Scoop | Talking Fish

What if a hurricane with the lowest low pressure readings ever seen in human history was barreling toward the East Coast and all we did was debate if it was a category 4 or 5? John Bullard, regional director for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in New England, used that metaphor recently to describe how we are coping with the enormous transformations that are happening in our ocean right now from climate change.

He used this attention-getter at the overdue multi-agency session in Washington, DC last week, the purpose of which was to consider the implications of climate change for fisheries management along the US Atlantic coast. This meeting was overdue in that climate change impacts are already being observed by fishermen and scientists alike, and adjusting to our new “normal” will not be easy and will take time.

For New England, the challenge is stark. The Gulf of Maine is one of the most rapidly heating bodies of water on the Atlantic Coast, if not in the US. These temperature changes are sending the sea life off to seek their comfort zone – according to NMFS, 24 of 36 stocks evaluated seem to be moving north or away from coastal waters. To make matters worse, our ocean is also acidifying at increasingly alarming rates. This can cause major problems for shell-forming animals, and much of our fishing economy is dependent on shell-forming animals – scallops and lobsters. Unfortunately, there has been little economic analysis about the implications of this issue yet.

Former fish czar Eric Schwaab also spoke at the climate change workshop, noting that the climate is likely changing faster than the fisheries governance structure. Sadly, New England’s fisheries managers have not particularly distinguished themselves in the first 30 years of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, even with a relatively stable ecosystem. Yes, I know there is no such thing as a “stable ecosystem” but it will likely seem like one compared to future manifestations. Now the natural variability will be happening within an ecosystem that is rapidly changing itself.

Bullard drove this home by saying that the current climate-changing 400 parts-per-million levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have never been experienced by mankind, let alone New England fishermen. He then made the obvious point that nothing in our oceans will ever be “normal” again, even though, right now, everyone is acting as if it will be. As if that huge hurricane heading our way will just be going out to sea.

Current examples of the effects of climate abound and were noted by various speakers: black sea bass in NH lobster traps, green crabs taking over the Maine coast, more summer flounder summering more in New England than ever before, no northern shrimp fishery to be found, and the looming end of the southern New England lobster fishery.

I’ve seen it myself, with the glut of longfin squid hanging out on the Massachusetts north shore the last two summers. While we can hope that these changes will be gradual and that an incremental approach will suffice, many ecologists suggest that the “state changes” could be rapid, extensive, and irreversible. Moreover, some New England fishermen who imagine that they will soon being fishing on Mid-Atlantic fish stocks may have forgotten that most of those fish are already in limited access fisheries and have been allocated to others.

Bullard put his finger on what is needed at such a critical pivotal moment: leadership. In his words (loosely transcribed), leadership requires responding to a threat with actions commensurate to the size of the threat even if everyone around you is acting like the threat doesn’t exist.

Amen. While it is hard to put aside my cynicism about the likelihood that this Rube Goldberg fisheries management system—Dr. Mike Orbach’s metaphor here at the meeting—is up to the task, the challenge is clear and the stakes could not be higher for fishermen and fishing communities up and down the Atlantic coast.

In the end, Bullard’s message seemed to me to fall largely on deaf ears at the workshop, with much of the to-do discussion focused on managing at the margin and improved coordination between the New England and mid-Atlantic councils. In other words, business as usual. The leadership to respond to the dramatic shifts in our marine ecosystems due to climate change was not yet evident at the workshop.

But there is hope for the future. While many of these forces of nature are likely beyond our control even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases altogether, we can prepare for changes and increase resiliency by rebuilding as many fish populations as we can and protecting habitat. Dynamic, integrated management will help our fisheries, ecosystems, and communities respond to the realities of a new normal.

 

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Announcing Our February Photo Contest Winner!

Categories: Photo Contest

Congratulations to Lee Palombo, our winning photographer for February’s contest! We love the vivid color and light of this New England sunset reflected on the water’s surface.

Do you have a great photo of New England’s oceans to share?  Enter our photo contest! Each month, Brian Skerry will lead our team of judges to select a winner, who will receive a copy of Brian’s book Ocean Soul.

Entering is easy! Explore New England’s oceans, take some photographs and then share them with our online community on Flickr™. All you need to do is add your photos to the New England Ocean Odyssey group and tag them “PhotoContestNEOO”. Find out more here.

Be sure to check our our New England Ocean Odyssey Facebook page where we’ll continue to post honorable mentions from the photo contest and other great ocean photography.

We look forward to seeing your photos!

Kelp Forest and Cunner at Cashes Ledge; 70-miles off the coast of Maine
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New England’s Dive Community Supports Protecting Cashes Ledge!

Categories: Action Alert | Cashes Ledge

Last weekend, we joined the Boston Sea Rovers at their annual show in Danvers, MA, to talk with divers and other ocean enthusiasts about Cashes Ledge, a Gulf of Maine ecological treasure. We always have a great time at Sea Rovers, and this year was no exception. Countless divers stopped by our booth to learn more about Cashes Ledge, which is now at immediate risk of being opened to destructive bottom trawling, and hundreds of people signed on to our petition asking NOAA to protect the full area around the ledge. We also hosted a presentation with National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry, Boston University scientist Les Kaufman, and CLF Director of Ocean Conservation Priscilla Brooks.

Their discussion of the incredible value of this unique habitat—and what can be done to ensure its permanent protection—drew over 200 people to a packed room, including the legendary ocean advocate Sylvia Earle. Earle expressed disbelief that anyone would consider opening such incredible habitat to trawling, and she even offered to make Cashes Ledge a Hope Spot in her Mission Blue campaign. The enthusiasm from the Sea Rovers crowd blew us away, and we’re thrilled to have the support of the active and conservation-minded dive community as we seek to protect one of the most incredible marine habitats in New England.

That support is needed now more than ever. In recognition of the remarkable value of the habitat on and around Cashes Ledge, the New England Fishery Management Council closed this area to damaging bottom trawling and scallop dredging nearly 15 years ago. This protected status allowed previously trawled habitat areas to recover and has supported the health of juvenile and spawning fish. It has also allowed Cashes Ledge to serve as an underwater laboratory for numerous marine scientists, providing an opportunity to study ecosystem functioning and biodiversity in a rare environment that is isolated from the polluted waters of coastal habitats and less impacted by commercial fishing.

But now, near the end of an eight-year process to develop a comprehensive habitat plan for New England’s fisheries, the New England Fishery Management Council voted to eliminate protection for nearly three quarters of the Cashes Ledge protected area (the cross-hatched areas in the map below).

The NEFMC's current proposal would eliminate protection for nearly three quarters of the current protected area around Cashes Ledge.

Cashes Ledge has been protected from bottom trawling for almost 15 years, but is now at immediate risk of being opened to destructive bottom trawling. Cashes Ledge deserves protection. Please sign our petition asking NOAA to maintain protection for the entire Cashes Ledge area.

 

Brian Skerry photographs farm-raised carp going to market in Wujin China while on assignment for National Geographic.
Brian Skerry photographs farm-raised carp going to market in Wujin China while on assignment for National Geographic.
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Brian Skerry Joins Us at the Boston Sea Rovers’ Dive Show and You Should Too!

We are so excited to be at the Boston Sea Rovers’ dive show again this year as an exhibitor, and are thrilled to announce that we will be hosting a panel discussion on Saturday, March 8th with world-renowned underwater photographer and Sea Rover Brian Skerry, eminent marine scientist and Professor of Biology at Boston University Les Kaufman, and Conservation Law Foundation’s VP and Ocean Program Director Priscilla Brooks!

Details:

  • The Boston Sea Rovers’ show is March 7th – 9th at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Danvers, MA. All the information you need to register and attend is on the Sea Rovers’ website.
  • Our presentation and panel discussion will be on Saturday, March 8th at 2 pm. The location within the hotel will be announced at the day of the presentation.

 

Brian Skerry will be showing his awe-inspiring photographs of Cashes Ledge – a New England undersea treasure in need of protection. Skerry and CLF are working to document and protect this special place. Come hear why Skerry says diving on Cashes Ledge is every bit as thrilling, surprising, and beautiful as anywhere else he’s been. He will give a short talk, featuring his original photography, about what he’s seen in the kelp forest on Cashes Ledge and why he is motivated to help keep it thriving. After the talk, there will be a panel discussion with Skerry, Witman, and Brooks.

We will also have a booth in the exhibit hall where you can come by and chat, learn more about Cashes Ledge, and help us with our work to protect this special place. We hope to see you there!

Originally published on February 6th.