Not a day goes by without a headline or broadcast report about something happening to the health of the ocean. The news isn't always good, but at least more attention is focused on the largest living space on the planet. With awareness, you open the door for solutions. (In the case of the ocean, ignorance definitely isn't bliss.)
With that in mind, the bad news first:
In the Mediterranean, new research estimates that shark populations are down more than 90 percent from historic levels 200 years ago -- with all the negative impacts on overall ecosystem health that result when you all but eliminate the top predators in the system. Hammerheads, mackerel sharks and blue sharks have been wiped out as accidental bycatch, or killed as pests by fishermen who don't value their place in the ocean's living web. And, sadly, there are still few regulations in place to protect sharks in the wild.
There's also disturbing news about the presence of chemical pollutants in the deep ocean. Scientists surveying deep-water cephalopods in the northwest Atlantic Ocean have detected chemical pollutants (like tributyltin and PCBs) in the tissues of deep-sea squids. Tissue samples from deep-sea squids and octopus -- including the cockatoo squid (Galiteuthis spp.) and the vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis) -- yielded surprising concentrations of persistent organic pollutants. Chemical like tributyltin (TBT, used in anti-fouling paint on boats), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), DDT and flame retardants were documented in tissue samples collected by scientists in the northwest Atlantic Ocean.
Why worry? Because these cephalopods are an important part of deep-sea food web -- including a source of food for deep-diving whales and dolphins.
On the good-news front, Southern California Edison is spending $40 million to create an artificial reef off the coast of Orange County as mitigation for damage to native kelp forests caused by discharge from its San Onofre nuclear power plant.
The 2.5-mile-long reef, mandated by the state Coastal Commission, is intended to provide footings to anchor giant kelp that will become the basis for a restored kelp forest ecosystem where wildlife can thrive.
Here in Monterey Bay, the return of sea otters from near-extirpation by fur hunters in the 18th and 19th centuries provided conditions for a similar revitalization of the kelp forests. Today, you'd never know that the bay was denuded of kelp by sea urchins, abalone and other grazers after otters were eliminated in the bay. They returned in the early 1960s, and the kelp forest followed them. Keep your eyes on San Clemente to see if the reef there has the same effect.
Finally, a celebration reported this week for "the most important microbe you've never heard of." NPR's Joe Palca took part in commemorating the discovery of a marine bacterium called Prochlorococcus. Why? Because it's super-abundant in the ocean, and is probably responsible for the oxygen in one out of every five breaths you take. Although it's one of the most abundant organisms on Earth, it was utterly unknown to science until 20 years ago.