By: Lee Mastroni, 2016
The ocean, a vast and mysterious body of water and life. Us humans have only just slightly explored its full potential. From its peacefulness and tranquility off the coastal beaches in Hawaii, to the roaring rogue waves out in the mid Atlantic, come and see the seemingly endless and beautiful majority of our planet, and discover animals and creatures at every corner of the sea.
Crawling on the shores of Indonesia, a region north of Australia, turtles are laying hundreds of eggs at a time. For many years, the inhabitants of Indonesia have relied on turtles as a food source, and even used their shells as bowls. Only recently, in the past few decades, have these natives changes their ways and moved on to more civil living styles. As of now, the hundreds of eggs that are being layed from Leatherback Sea Turtles (seen below), an endangered species, are about to hatch and rush for survival to the breaking waves.
The many holes dug by desperate mothers are being flooded with hundreds of tiny turtles, scampering to get ashore. Most babies would hope to get to the safe water of the Pacific, but some aren't so lucky. Seagulls, stalking from above, swoop down and try to grab a meal. Studies say that about 1 in 1,000 hatch-lings will survive. The strong survive and the weak die, this is called Darwinism. As time goes on, the species of turtle will get stronger and have more helpful adaptations because of evolution and natural selection. This is why so few turtles will survive their journey,
Meanwhile, on the tropical beaches of Christmas Island, a thousand miles north west of the Australian shoreline, tiny crabs called Red Fiddler Crabs, or Red Crabs, invade the beaches of the island by the millions. From the forests, they begin their journey to their breeding grounds on the coastline. Along the way they eat fallen leaves, fruit and seedlings. Since they are feeding directly from producers, the 10% rule states that the Red Fiddler Crabs should consume 90% of the plants energy. They also feed on dead animals on the way as well. There is virtually no competition for resources due to their vast numbers and dominance over the forest floor. They have to cross three or four roads, and it takes them days to finish their great migration.
Coral reefs are diverse and intricate systems of living rocks and millions of tiny microorganisms, fish and mollusks.
Even the tiniest of disruptions can mess it all up. The food chain is a huge part in this system. The small fish eat tiny fish, and the huge fish eat the small fish. The colors in this environment are astonishing, and the creatures that live there are more so. Scientists have only scratched the surface of the number of supposed species of fish that resign there, what kind of plants they prefer, and why they choose this beautiful seascape.
One of the biggest and most intricate reefs on the Earth, The Great Barrier Reef, is located off the east shores of Australia. It's 132,973 square miles and covers almost the whole side of the continent. Not to anyone's surprise, it is home to more than 1,500 species of fish, 411 types of hard coral, one-third of the world's soft corals, 134 species of sharks and rays, six of the world's seven species of threatened marine turtles, and more than 30 species of marine mammals. Like many ecosystems, there are biotic and abiotic factors that play a part in its environment. Some biotic factors in the Great Barrier Reef are the types of fish, sharks and coral. Some abiotic factors can be water temperature, amount of light and salinity of the water. This region of the world is a scuba diver or marine biologist's dream. So many species and so many more to discover, the Great Barrier Reef has by far taken its rightful place as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.
The world is filled with predators, some people think that they are cruel and are not fair to their prey, but the truth is, if there were no predators in this world, the food chain and overpopulation would be way too out of hand. What is a predator, anyway? According to Webster's dictionary, a predator is "An animal that lives by killing and eating other animals, an animal that preys on other animals." So what makes predators so intimidating? If you think about it, humans are predators too. We catch fish when we go to the lake or out on a boat, and use them for food. We aren't scary, but to them, the prey, we are menacing. It's just the food web. It's life.
What gives creatures like the Great White Shark their predatory traits? Take the nightmarish moray eel (top left on grid below) for example. It hides in a hole, made from coral or rock, and waits until a small enough fish swims by to jump out and clasp the fish in it's jaws. The scientific name for this particular fish is Muraenidae. It belongs to the eel family, a long and slippery type of creature that usually stalk on it's prey. So do all predators have to be vicious? Just like Shamu (top right on grid below) she definitely does not act like she looks. She is a killer whale, with sharp teeth and strong jaws, but this tamed animal is not as mean as she looks. She is still a predator never the less, but she likes to play and perform, not be vicious like a moray eel.
If there are predators, there have to be prey. From zooplankton (top right on grid below) to a school of silverfish (top left from grid below) they all play a crucial role of the delicate ecosystem of the ocean. Let me explain the food chain. The food chain is sort of a ranking of organisms each dependent on the next as a source of food. Each ecosystem has its own food chain. The ranking depends on the size and lethality of the next animal. The system indefinitely starts out in the ocean with zoo-plankton. They gather all the nutrients from the sun and protein from minerals in the water to survive. But for the next animal in the system, a crab or small fish, they eat the plankton and they take most of the nutrients of the tiny organism, following the 10% rule. This goes on and on until it gets to the top of the food chain, humans. We are at the top because if you haven't already noticed, we eat everything. We eat sharks and birds, all of which are predators to the fish in the sea. Humans do not have natural predators, so the system ends with us.
One way for prey to fend off predators is by activating camouflage. This is a great way to trick or deceive any predators to show that there is no food around, and they go on swimming without even noticing the sneaky cuttlefish in the coral or unrecognizable flounder under the sand. To camouflage, these special creatures have to blend in with their surroundings. They have to blend in so well so that they go unnoticed. They can't be bright green when they are on sand, that is for the reef setting. How do these fish camouflage exactly? The answer is, the three main types of camouflage, or crypsis, is transparency, reflection, and counter-illumination. These animals really do have an advantage in the world of eat or be eaten.
As humans, we do a lot of damage to the environment. Gases from cars destroy the ozone layer, the plastic and garbage is seeping into out water sources and killing large numbers of marine animals every year. Our waste and sewage are being dumped into lakes and rivers. This thing called the Pacific Gyre (twice the size of Texas), an area out in the Pacific Ocean where multiple currents meet and swirl around, is gathering more and more plastic and trash until the point of when fish, mammals and birds are relying on this waste as food. Poor animals are dying because this garbage is not being cleaned up. We need to take action and figure out a solution.
After much brainstorming and engineering, scientists are coming up with machines to clean up masses of waste in short amounts of time. A solution was invented by a man named Boyan Slat, 19 years old, that can clean all the plastic in just five years. What it does is it has very long arms that guide trash towards the center hub, and this hub then grinds all the trash and throws it into a gigantic bin on the back. The incredible part about this is that is actually a profitable business, meaning as it does work, it actually makes the business money and boosts the economy. But how can it not be expensive to run and build? Well to answer that question, it is expensive to build. But to make money, the business recycles all the plastic and sells it to major corporations. But what about running it? It actually uses very little power, because it runs on the currents to guide it and catch garbage. Now, if we could only get this thing running than we can be on our way to a better environment.
The ocean is a vast and intricate structure of very fragile ecosystems. It makes up 73% of the Earth's surface, and we still have explored just a fraction of its full potential. For all I know, Megalodon is lurking somewhere out there in the endless blue waters that we call the ocean. From predators to prey, and from The Great Barrier Reef to The Pacific Gyre, this story has only explained a bit of all there is to know about the