Immortal Jellyfish is Taking Over the World’s Oceans

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Turritopsis nutricula is a jellyfish native to the warmer, tropical waters of the Caribbean. It is a small individual, typically no larger than 4.5mm. Turritopsis nutricula is more commonly known as the “immortal jellyfish” as it has developed a unique mechanism that may render itself potentially immortal. The jellyfish is able to revert from its adult phase back to a younger polyp; a biological process known as transdifferentiation.

Turritopsis nutricula only uses this process in times of stress, and typically reproduces the old-fashioned way, by the unison of free-floating sperm and eggs. Typically, these jellyfish will also die by natural processes like predation. However, in times of extreme stress, such as starvation or physical damage, Turritopsis nutricula will revert back to its younger state by transforming its existing cells. In this transformation process, the jellyfish’s cells completely change, with muscle cells having the ability to become nerve cells or even sperm and eggs. The jellyfish can then reproduce asexually producing hundreds of genetically identical individuals that are able to complete this cycle again.

Although this phenomenon of the natural world is truly incredible, it comes at a cost. These jellyfish are invading waters beyond their natural range, often being transported in the ballast water of ships. Currently the effect of these jellyfish in their invaded ecosystems is unknown; however, researchers believe the jellyfish may hold vital information in the fight against cancer. “The ability of these jellyfish to switch off some genes and to switch on other genes, reactivating genetic programs that were used in earlier stages of the life cycle has the potential to provide information on how to fight cancer”, says Stefano Piraino of the University of Salento in Italy.

These jellyfish are truly unique, so keep your eyes out for these individuals whatever ocean you are in as you may see natures very own Benjamin Button.

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Skydive for the Philippines

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In light of the devastation in the Philippines I have initiated a fundraiser to help the Disasters Emergency Committee. I will be completing my first ever skydive with three friends on the 28th November. Please dig deep and help get aid to the survivors of the super typhoon, Haiyan. Click here to donate.

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Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever recorded hit the Philippines with gusts of winds up to 200mph. The storm has devastated several regions of the Philippines, killing an estimated 10,000 people.

The tragedy doesn’t end there as the storm has forced 630,000 people from their homes and affected more than 9.5million people. For these survivors the battle is only just beginning! Essential supplies are needed; such as water, food and medical supplies to help the survivors of Haiyan.

Please help Emma Camp,  Chris Livemore, Jane Barclay and Alysaa Stewart in our efforts to raise money to send these essential supplies.

Through the Disaster Emergency Committee £25 could pay for a water purification tablets for ten families for one month, £50 could provide a family with food for 2 weeks, and £100 could provide emergency shelter and bedding for a family.

On the 28th November, out little team will jump from a plane from a height of around 10,000-12,000 feet. We will free fall at around 120mph until the parachute is deployed around 5000 feet. This is the first skydive for all of us and we hope our efforts will help to make a difference to those suffering in the Phillippines.

Click here to donate.

First record of the basslet Gramma dejongi outside of Cuba

The following article was released in the journal Coral Reefs this week. Katie Lohr and I saw and photographed the fish in July 2013. Enjoy!

The basslet Gramma dejongi, a recently discovered sibling species to the fairy basslet (G. loreto), was regarded as endemic to Cuba (Victor and Randall 2010). Here we report the first documented sightings of G. dejongi at Little Cayman Island. The Cayman Islands are located on an oceanic ridge that extends southwest from the Sierra Maestra Mountains in southeastern Cuba. Situated approximately 220 km due south of Cuba, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac are the closest islands to the town of Trinidad, where G. dejongi was first reported (Victor and Randall 2010). A single G. dejongi individual (Fig. 1) was first sighted in July 2013 among a group of G. loreto (Fig. 2) and was visually identified by comparing its morphology and coloration to those described by Victor and Randall (2010).

Photo Credit: Camp, 2013

Photo Credit: Camp, 2013

The Little Cayman specimen was 60 mm in total length, exceeding the maximum size reported for the species (i.e., 45 mm, Victor and Randall 2010). The individual was found at 18 m on a spur-and-groove formation 1.5 km east of the Bloody Bay Marine Park. We located the same G. dejongi individual in August 2013 at the exact site where it was first observed, suggesting the species is highly site-attached. Like G. loreto, the Little Cayman G. dejongi specimen was repeatedly observed upside down. Our observations indicate that second-hand reports of smaller size and vertical-swimming behavior in the original description ofG. dejongi may not be diagnostic (Victor and Randall 2010).

Photo Credit: Camp, 2013

Photo Credit: Camp, 2013

The discovery of a single G. dejongi individual in the Cayman Islands does not imply that large-scale recruitment of the species has occurred in the area. However, sighting G. dejongi outside of Cuba does suggest that the species is capable of dispersing pelagically to nearby islands.
Acknowledgments
The authors would like to thank S. Bejarano for her insightful comments.
For a PDF download of the article click here

Marine Inspired Fancy Dress

This blog post is on the lighter side so I hope you enjoy the break from the science.

Living on an island that has limited resources for fancy dress there is often a need to get crafty and creative for Halloween. Inspired by the ocean I thought I would share some of my fancy dress creations, as well as those of my friends, and some strangers whose ideas I love!

I hope you enjoy! 

1. The Jellyfish

This was mine and my boyfriends Halloween costume for this year.  It was really easy to make and the end result came out well!

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2. The Lionfish

Inspired by the invasion of the Lionfish throughout the Caribbean this costume was created by my good friend Katie Lohr for Halloween this year. 

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3. The Coral Reef

This costume is very intricate but I love the idea.

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4. The Nudibranch (sea slug)

I love nudibranch, they are so colourful and unique.  There is a lot of potential with this costume idea!

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5. The Hammerhead

A creature that is on my wishlist to see. This easy costume was created by my friend Luke Miller for Halloween this year. 

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6. The Fish tank

On Halloween two years ago I was desperately trying to think of a costume.  This was what I came up with!

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7.  The Mermaid 

I grew up loving the Little Mermaid so I had to include this one. For the island Mardi gras party this year my colleagues and I dressed up as Mermaids for the parade. 

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8. Lobster

This one is just too cute not to share!

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9. SCUBA Diver

This is a good costume for any age!

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10. Fish 

This costume allows you to go wild with your creative side. Pick you favorite fish and away you go!

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Coral Itself May Play Important Role in Regulating Climate

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Australian scientists have discovered that the coral animal—not its algae symbiont—makes an important sulphur based molecule dimethylsulphoniopropionate (DSMP). DSMP can assist the coral in many ways, ranging from cellular protection in times of heat stress to local climate cooling by encouraging cloud formation.

 

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DSMP is responsible for the “characteristic smell of the ocean”, indicating how abundant the molecule is in the marine environment.

 

This discovery that corals produce DSMP is the first time an animal has been identified as a DSMP producer. Previously it was assumed that the algae symbiont was responsible for its production. The researchers found that DSMP production increased when corals were subjected to water temperatures that put them under heat stress. DSMP and its breakdown products act as antioxidants protecting the coral tissues from environmental stress. DSMP also serves as nuclei for the formation of water droplets in the atmosphere; thus, its help to create clouds.

 

A decrease in corals could result in a major decrease in DSMP production, which in turn will limit cloud formation. “Cloud production, especially in the tropics, is an important regulator of climate—because clouds shade Earth and reflect much of the sun’s heat back into space. If fewer clouds are produced, less heat will be reflected — which ultimately will lead to warmer sea surface temperatures,” Dr Raina the lead author explains.

 

“Considering declining trends in coral cover and predicted increases in coral mortality worldwide caused by anthropogenic stressors, the associated decline in sulphur aerosol production from coral reefs may further destabilise local climate regulation and accelerate degradation of this globally important and diverse ecosystem.” The researchers are from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

 

The full journal article can be accessed here.

 

It is “extremely likely that humans have been the dominant cause of global warming since the 1950s”

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its 2013 working group I report which is the 5th assessment report that they have produced.  The report had a total of 209 lead authors and 50 review editors from 39 countries and more than 600 contributing authors from 32 countries.  Collectively these authors conducted a mammoth review of climate research from the last three years. The report, based on scientific evidence, historic records and climate models concludes that it is extremely likely that humans have been the dominant cause of global warming since the 1950’s. Improved models and scientific instrumentation has led to increased certainty of humans influence on the world’s climate since the 4th IPCC report in 2007.

Other key findings include the continued increase in global surface temperature change which is expected to exceed 1.5 °C by the end of the 21st Century, relative to 1850. The oceans are also continuing to warm and the potential absorption of heat by the deep ocean has been offered as one explanation as to why there has been a warming hiatus since 1998.

Levels of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times.  Changes in land use and increasing usage of fossil fuels are the primary causes for this increase.  The oceans have absorbed 30% of emitted carbon dioxide causing ocean acidification which is only predicted to worsen. Prof Thomas Stocker, a co-chair of the IPCC working group spoke at the conference in the Swedish capital saying that climate change “challenges the two primary resources of humans and ecosystems, and water. In short, it threatens our planet, our only home”.

In this report, scientists conclude that sea level rise will proceed at a faster rate than we have experience over the past 40 years.  It is predicted that waters will rise between 26cm and 82cm depending on the continued levels of greenhouse emissions. The two main factors contributing to sea level rise are the melting glaciers and warming waters, which expand as they heat up.

For the future, the report states that under all models there will be continued warming, and climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The IPCC Summary for Policymakers can be downloaded here