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What Happens When Oil Spills Meet Massive Islands of Seaweed?

Floating rafts of sargassum, a large brown seaweed, can stretch for miles across the ocean.

Floating bits of brown seaweed at ocean surface
                                                            (Credit: Sean Nash/Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license)

The young loggerhead sea turtle, its ridged shell only a few inches across, is perched calmly among the floating islands of large brown seaweed, known as sargassum. Casually, it nibbles on the leaf-like blades of the seaweed, startling a nearby crab. Open ocean stretches for miles around these large free-floating seaweed mats where myriad creatures make their home.

Suddenly, a shadow passes overhead. A hungry seabird?

Taking no chances, the small sea turtle dips beneath the ocean surface. It dives through the yellow-brown sargassum with its tangle of branches and bladders filled with air, keeping everything afloat.

Home Sweet Sargassum

This little turtle isn’t alone in seeking safety and food in these buoyant mazes of seaweed. Perhaps nowhere is this more obvious than a dynamic stretch of the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast of North America named for this seaweed: the Sargasso Sea. Sargassum is also an important part of the Gulf of Mexico, which contains the second most productive sargassum ecosystem in the world.

Some shrimp, crabs, and fish are specially suited to life in sargassum. Certain species of eel, fish, and shark spawn there. Each year, humpback whales, tuna, and seabirds migrate across these fruitful waters, taking advantage of the gathering of life that occurs where ocean currents converge.

Cutaway graphic of ocean with healthy sargassum seaweed habitat supporting marine life.

The Wide and Oily Sargasso Sea

However, an abundance of marine life isn’t the only other thing that can accumulate with these large patches of sargassum. Spilled oil, carried by currents, can also end up swirling among the seaweed.

If an oil spill made its way somewhere like the Sargasso Sea, a young sea turtle would encounter a much different scene. As the ocean currents brought the spill into contact with sargassum, oil would coat those same snarled branches and bladders of the seaweed. The turtles and other marine life living within and near the oiled sargassum would come into contact with the oil too, as they dove, swam, and rested among the floating mats.

That oil can be inhaled as vapors, be swallowed or consumed with food, and foul feathers, skin, scales, shell, and fur, which in turn smothers, suffocates, or strips the animal of its ability to stay insulated. The effects can be toxic and deadly.

Cutaway graphic of ocean with potential impacts of oil on sargassum seaweed habitat and marine life.

While sea turtles, for example, as cold-blooded reptiles, may enjoy the relatively warmer waters of sargassum islands, a hot sun beating down on an oiled ocean surface can raise water temperatures to extreme levels. What starts as soothing can soon become stressful.

Depending on how much oil arrived, the sargassum would grow less, or not at all, or even die. These floating seaweed oases begin shrinking. Where will young sea turtles take cover as they cross the unforgiving open ocean?

As life in the sargassum starts to perish, it may drop to the ocean bottom, potentially bringing oil and the toxic effects with it. Microbes in the water may munch on the oil and decompose the dead marine life, but this can lead to ocean oxygen dropping to critical levels and causing further harm in the area.

From Pollution to Protection

Young sea turtles swims through floating seaweed mats.

NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service havedesignated sargassum as a critical habitat for threatened loggerhead sea turtles.

Sargassum has also been designated as Essential Fish Habitat by Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service since it also provides nursery habitat for many important fishery species (e.g., dolphinfish, triggerfishes, tripletail, billfishes, tunas, and amberjacks) and for ecologically important forage fish species (e.g., butterfishes and flyingfishes).

Sargassum and its inhabitants are particularly vulnerable to threats such as oil spills and marine debris due to the fact that ocean currents naturally tend to concentrate all of these things together in the same places. In turn, this concentrating effect can lead to marine life being exposed to oil and other pollutants for more extended periods of time and perhaps greater impacts.

However, protecting sargassum habitat isn’t impossible and it isn’t out of reach for most people. Some of the same things you might do to lower your impact on the planet—using less plastic, reducing your demand for oil, properly disposing of trash, discussing these issues with elected officials—can lead to fewer oil spills and less trash turning these magnificent islands of sargassum into floating islands of pollution.

And maybe protect a baby sea turtle or two along the way.

Source: What Happens When Oil Spills Meet Massive Islands of Seaweed?

Seven Things You Didn’t Know About Dive Masks, Fins and Snorkels

Sport Diver 1

As scuba divers, we’re intimately connected to our equipment, especially our most fundamental gear — masks, fins and snorkels. But do you know who was the first human to strap fins on, or why mask lens are tempered? Check out these surprising facts.

1. Be thankful for silicone mask skirts. In the early days, when masks had rubber skirts, divers sometimes surfaced with their faces tinged with a ring of black.

2. Not only do objects underwater appear 25-precent closer than they really are, but the combined effect of the mask lens and water makes them appear 34-percent larger. Now, how big was that shark?

3. Many divers know tempered glass lenses are stronger than standard glass, but they’re also safer, because if broken they crumble into tiny pieces less likely to cause injury.

4. While most divers clean the protective film off a new mask by scrubbing it with a mild abrasive, it’s possible to (carefully) burn the film off using a lighter.

5. Snorkels are ancient technology. Sponge farmers on the island of Crete may have used snorkels made out of hollow reeds as early as 3,000 B.C.

6. The earliest fin designs came from some of history’s most creative minds, including Leonardo DaVinci and Benjamin Franklin. Franklin made fins from thin wood and used them in Boston’s Charles River.

7. The first mass-produced dive fin in the U.S. came from Churchill Swim Fins, established in 1938.

Seven Things You Didn’t Know About Dive Masks, Fins and Snorkels – But Should | Sport Diver.

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September 2013 Moon Phases

September  2013 Moon Phases

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat

Waning Crescent, 13% of full

Waning Crescent, 7% of full

Waning Crescent, 3% of full

Waning Crescent, 1% of full

New Moon, 0% of full

Waxing Crescent, 2% of full

Waxing Crescent, 5% of full

Waxing Crescent, 11% of full

Waxing Crescent, 19% of full

Waxing Crescent, 29% of full

Waxing Crescent, 39% of full

Waxing Gibbous, 51% of full

Waxing Gibbous, 62% of full

Waxing Gibbous, 73% of full

Waxing Gibbous, 82% of full

Waxing Gibbous, 90% of full

Waxing Gibbous, 96% of full

Waxing Gibbous, 99% of full

Full Moon, 100% of full

Waning Gibbous, 98% of full

Waning Gibbous, 94% of full

Waning Gibbous, 88% of full

Waning Gibbous, 81% of full

Waning Gibbous, 72% of full

Waning Gibbous, 63% of full

Waning Gibbous, 54% of full

Waning Crescent, 44% of full

Waning Crescent, 35% of full

Waning Crescent, 26% of full

Waning Crescent, 18% of full

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