As the BBC’s Blue Planet Live continues, the Realplasticfree.com team provides a summary about the secrets that lurk in the deep blue, and how human impact is changing the health of our oceans. We also highlight some of the novel technologies that have been featured and are helping our precious marine life.
BBC’s Blue Planet Live this week has reminded us that we know more about the surface of the moon than our oceans.
To us humans, the deep-sea environment is an alien and remote place in which we have explored just 1% of it. Yet it is absolutely fundamental for all of us being here on planet earth.
Blue Planet II introduced to a remarkable amount of never before seen extraordinary creatures, such as ghost sharks, flapjack octopus, and feather stars. These unique creatures are able to withstand temperatures close to freezing!
Did you know? It is anticipated that there could be more species in the deep ocean than all other habitats on earth combined!
Blue Planet Live has this week gone one step further by questioning our human impact on this final frontier.
How deep is the ocean?
The ocean is on average about 12,100 feet, but some of the deepest parts, such as the Challenger Deep, which is located under the western Pacific Ocean and known as Challenger Deep, is thought to be 36,200 feet deep!
Pollution in the ocean
We need to stop using plastic.
Surface pollution is there for us all to see – we see the plastic bags and the crisp packets and the soft drinks cans that pollute our beaches and. But what about if we go deeper?
One of the saddest examples their researchers gave was a plastic shopping bag found 10,000 metres below the water on the ocean floor.
Sadly, due to the lack of life and low oxygen in the deep ocean all items take a lot longer to degrade.
Waste pollution never goes away
In the case of a plastic bag, the plastic never actually goes away – it just breaks down and gets smaller and smaller until it becomes millions of tiny particles in the sea.
The deep sea is the epitome of out of sight, out of mind
Another example of pollution in the deep is what deep-sea researchers found on the ocean floor off the Gulf of Mexico.
At first they thought it was a shipwreck, but it was soon made clear it was a 40-foot shipping container that had emptied itself on impact. They found themselves driving through a field of washing machines, refrigerators and dishwashers.
A staggering 1,500 shipping containers are lost at sea every single year. Just imagine the amount of pollution humans are creating, as these metals degrade. This will have a negative impact on life in our ocean.
“When we irresponsibly throw something away, that ‘away’ can often become a precious habitat where unthinkable damage can be done because of our waste.”
– Liz Bonnin, Blue Planet Live presenter
Novel technologies are helping our marine life
The good news is that our oceans and all the marine life who depend on them have some champions: individual scientists who are continually coming up with novel ways to clean our oceans and save endangered species and reefs.
Technology is an incredible tool to understand our oceans. When working and sharing collaboratively, scientists and researchers can use the collected data to make better informed decisions.
Blue Planet Live has been featuring some of these incredible technologies and their subsequent projects all this week.
The Shark Lab
At SharkLab Bimini in the Bahamas, this marine sanctuary is conducting ultrasounds on bull sharks to check if they are pregnant. It turns out these bull sharks swim to the warm, shallow waters as is helps speed up their gestation. A lot can be learned about the health of these expectant mothers.
Did you know? Whales spend 7% of their time underwater
Created by the whale conservation organisation Ocean Alliance, the SnotBot is an incredible piece of kit – it is a drone that flies over whales and collects their snot as they exhale while taking a breath at the ocean surface!
Amazingly, whale snot contains priceless biological information – including microbiomes and hormones.
Hormones alone can indicate whether animals are stressed, which can determine whether whales are disturbed by human activity, such as shipping or whale watching.
Surprisingly, the SnotBot is inexpensive kit, and so it can democratise science and allow more people to collect more data. The only challenge is getting the drone in the right position over the blowhole!
Skin Flake Collection
Lead scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution are using the passive observation method of collecting skin flakes from whales after they have swum to the ocean surface.
These flakes of skin provide powerful clues about whales in their DNA, including the sex of a whale, what they are feeding, which indicates in turn where they have been, as well as their stress levels.
This allows us to see the impact ecotourism can have on whales, particularly in places like Baja in Mexico, which is a massive mecca for whale watching.
Too many boats can distress whales – they are shy and don’t like to be disturbed when they come up to the surface.
Thanks to this data, local eco-tourism companies in Baja have since been trained in passive observation techniques.
Since the training was implemented in 2014, an increasing number of whales are spending more time cruising on the surface, which is a healthy sign of their natural behaviour.
Off the southern coast of Africa, the African Penguin is becoming increasingly at risk due to the high numbers of tourists and overfishing.
Researchers in the Cape have created sculpted decoys of happy fat penguins and placed them in safer areas (away from human interference) that have more fish for feeding.
The team use these decoys and play sounds to attract the penguins to new, protected breeding colonies that offer more food for the penguins. Early indications show that the decoys are working and could save this species.
IVF for coral reefs
In Australia there has been a significant amount of coral bleaching, which occurs due to increasing surface temperatures. When coral tissue doesn’t function, it stresses the algae so that they lose their energy.
Coral bleaching has becoming more frequent and more severe, and there is a worrying trend. No corals are safe from increased thermal stress events due to climate change.
There was significant coral death in 2016 and 2017 due to marine heatwaves and we now stand to lose a million species associated with corals.
Scientific research today can predict exactly both what is happening now and what could happen in ten to twenty years if we don’t act.
Professor Peter Harrison and his team at Southern Cross University have been tracking the progress of coral reefs.
As a result, Harrison came up with the ground-breaking idea to recolonise dead reefs by conducting IVF on the corals, in which the team searches for live coral that is healthy enough to use.
Did you know? Coral IVF has already been successfully trialled in the Philippines, but on a much smaller scale.
Coral only releases its eggs and sperm a few nights each year, so there is no room for mistakes. The team has to work in virtual darkness while they capture the spawn before taking it and impregnating other reefs.
RV Atlantic & Alvin the Submersible
The high-tech research vessel Atlantic was launched this week into waters off the coast of California by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Consequently, Alvin, an on-board submersible, is a 22-tonne titanium sphere who can be hauled down from the main vessel and is more equipped to discover the secrets that lurk in the deep. Alvin also features mechanical arms that can gather samples.
With a pilot on board, this week for Blue Planet Live, Alvin is visiting an underwater mountain 10,000 metres below sea level, which is a known biological hotspot.