Posts Tagged 'John Racanelli'



A Blue View: Inspiring Hope for the Ocean

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

February 26, 2014: Inspiring Hope

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss how
“Her Deepness,” Dr. Sylvia Earle is
inspiring hope for the ocean’s future!

It’s been said that hope is the most powerful motivator in the world…a principle with which I happen to agree. I came to this, in good measure, due to a remarkable person named Dr. Sylvia Earle, oceanographer, scientist, National Geographic explorer-in-residence, and one of this blue planet’s most ardent champions.

Dr. Sylvia Earle

I had the good fortune of working with Dr. Earle a few years ago in launching a new organization called Mission Blue. What I learned while working with this ardent advocate for what she calls Earth’s blue heart, is that conservation is ultimately about the power of hope.

In this time of 24-hour news cycle, we hear endlessly about the world’s “hot spots,” bleak stories of civil wars, droughts and degraded ecosystems. Sylvia, however, took an entirely new tack when she launched the idea of “hope spots,” special places in our ocean that are critical to our planet’s health and worth restoring and preserving as marine protected areas.

These hope spots are found throughout world, including areas such as the Coral Triangle in the western Pacific – perhaps the most diverse marine ecosystem on Earth; the deep underwater canyons of Alaska’s Bering Sea – home to whales, fur seals, king crabs, and even cold water corals; the evocatively named White Shark Café – a critical breeding and feeding ground in the deep Pacific for great white sharks; and the Mesoamerican Reef – the world’s second longest coral reef, which spans three Central American nations. The message that Sylvia wants to share is that there is still hope, provided we take decisive action, now.

In fact, she has identified 51 existing or potential hope spots …impressive, until we learn that less than two percent of the ocean is currently protected, in contrast to over 12 percent of the world’s land area. Considering that the ocean covers 71 percent of the planet, we have a long way to go.

When Sylvia received the coveted TED Prize a few years ago, she declared that the next 10 years will likely be more important than the last 10,000 to the future of the ocean. What we do right now will set the tone for our relationship with this ocean planet for a long time to come.

So, where do we stand? Well, it would be easy to despair… we humans have eaten more than 90 percent of the sea’s big fish, nearly half the world’s coral reefs have disappeared or are at risk, dead zones continue to increase around the mouths of many of our mightiest rivers and we have now identified five massive trash gyres in the world’s largest oceans.

5 gyres

But in the midst of all this negativity, Sylvia reminds us that there is hope. Ten percent of those big fish still live—enough to restore most fish stocks, given time. Fifty percent of coral reefs are still thriving and worthy of saving. And we can bring those dead zones back to life just by taking better care of the water that flows down our rivers. In fact, the percentage of marine protected areas has doubled since Sylvia began this mission seven years ago by deftly steering former President George Bush into declaring two of the largest marine protected areas in US history.

In a storied career that includes leading more than 100 ocean science expeditions and logging more than 7,000 hours underwater, Sylvia knows the ocean as few do. She believes that a global network of hope spots can support biodiversity, absorb our carbon, generate life-giving oxygen, preserve critical habitat and allow low-impact activities like adventure travel and artisanal fishing to thrive.

Now that’s reason for hope.

Learn more about our 2014 Marjorie Lynn Bank Lecture Series and get tickets and information on upcoming events.

national aquarium CEO john racanelli

A Blue View: From the Bottom of the Food Chain

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

January 16, 2014: From the Bottom of the Food Chain

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss the importance
of plankton in the ocean’s complex food chain
!

The ocean food web is much more than the dramatic clash of sharks devouring marine mammals and large fish. While many of us know that the ocean food web is complex, it’s easy to focus on the apex predators at the top. But the view from the bottom up is an essential component in understanding the ocean and all of its inhabitants. Microscopic drifting organisms, called plankton, serve as the foundation upon which the ocean’s entire food web is built.

The very definition of these tiny drifters is formed from the Greek word planktos, meaning “wanderer.” And that’s exactly what these tremendously important animals and plants do, touching all the creatures of the sea as they flow along its ever-changing currents.

Plankton include both phytoplankton and zooplankton. Phytoplankton are tiny microscopic cells that include bacteria, plants, and algae found near the surface of the water where photosynthesis occurs. A single drop of water contains thousands of phytoplankton.

Crab Megalopa Larva Audubon Magazine

This is a crab megalopa larva (magnification x 40). Image via Audubon Magazine.

Not all zooplankton is tiny. After all, jellies are a type of zooplankton. But most zookplankton are microscopic, including the tiny larvae of crabs, jellyfish, corals, and worms as well as adult animals like tiny shrimps, copepods and krill. To understand the size of these small zooplankton, consider this analogy: to fill a coffee cup, it would take a quarter of a million copepods, small crustaceans that are the most common zooplankton in the ocean. A single gallon of water from the Chesapeake Bay can contain half a million zooplankton.

Zooplankton eat phytoplankton, and are themselves eaten by small fish and a few large species like the whale shark and baleen whales. Small plankton-eaters are, in turn, eaten by larger fish, and so on until you get to the apex predators: large squids, fish, marine mammals, and, yes, the voracious human species.

All levels of the food chain are critical to ensuring a healthy balance in the oceans, but as we grapple with issues related to sea level rise and ocean acidification, scientists are studying what these changes will mean for the base of this complex web—the consequences of which will affect literally every marine species in the world.

Sea Angel Audubon Magazine

These juvenile “sea angels” (magnification x 20) are only 5 millimeters long. Image via Audubon Magazine.

One very important ecosystem service that plankton provide: they produce as much as 70 percent of the world’s oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis, an essential function that impacts the very air we breathe. Ocean scientist and explorer Sylvia Earle estimates that one family alone—Prochlorococcus—is perhaps the most abundant photosynthetic organism in the world and provides the oxygen for one in every five breaths we take.

This is even more incredible when one considers that all of this activity is happening in just the upper layer of the ocean, the epipelagic zone, where sunlight can reach. Though this zone is just a drop in the overall makeup of the ocean, what plankton do there reverberates from the deepest parts of the ocean to the upper atmosphere.

Plankton are not normally visible, except when huge blooms show up as blue/green swirls of color when viewed from above. Scientists are able to monitor the distribution of phytoplankton from space by analyzing the reflected light from the water’s surface. The Climate, Ocean, and Sea Ice Modeling team at Los Alamos National Laboratory is at the forefront of the development of these computer simulations. This group is focused on understanding how global climate change may impact the world’s phytoplankton population.

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A Blue View: Ocean Victories

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

January 8, 2014: Ocean Victories of 2013

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John and Oceana’s Beth Lowell
discuss the biggest ocean victories in 2013!

We hear a lot about the seemingly insurmountable challenges facing our ocean, yet the ocean has some powerful friends working on its behalf. Beth Lowell, Campaign Director for Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans, recently sat down with our CEO John Racanelli to discuss some of 2013′s success stories and opportunities for the future.

Where does Oceana see the most opportunity for success in 2014?

Bycatch - Bycatch is defined as the incidental catching of fish and other marine wildlife (such as dolphins and sea turtles) during commercial fishing activities. This year, Oceana will be working closely with fisheries to reduce and eliminate bycatch!

Seafood Fraud - Seafood fraud is the practice of misleading consumers about their seafood in order to increase profits. Through “Bait-to-Plate” and increased traceability, there exists the real potential to change the way our country deals with fish once it’s caught.

Organizations like National Aquarium and Oceana are dedicated to protecting and preserving the ocean and all of its inhabitants. From volunteering at conservation cleanups to signing petitions, there are many ways to show you love the ocean.

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A Blue View: Inside Bioluminescence

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

January 2, 2014: Inside Bioluminescence

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss the amazing
phenomenon that is bioluminescence! 

In the ocean’s deepest reaches, sunlight cannot penetrate, and yet, there is light. From softly glowing to dazzlingly brilliant, it is not the light of humans and their machines. It is called bioluminescence—literally, “living light”—and it provides a bewildering variety of species the means to seek prey and elude predators in a world as alien to us as space.

Check out our infographic on this fascinating phenomenon: 

national aquarium bioluminescence infographic

Bioluminescence occurs when living creatures convert chemical energy to light energy, resulting in the production and emission of light. Here in the mid-Atlantic, we experience bioluminescence in our own backyards on many a summer evening. Fireflies are among the few terrestrial species that glow, joined by certain species of bacteria, insects, and fungi. Beyond these, there are few other bioluminescent animals found on land.

Under the sea, however, it is a remarkably different story. An estimated 90 percent of deep-sea marine creatures are able to produce bioluminescence in some way. Most emit blue or green hued light, though some creatures employ a red-light strategy—taking advantage of the fact that red is the first color in the spectrum to be refracted.

In the deep, where food is scarce and conditions unforgiving, bioluminescence is critical to the survival of countless aquatic species.
For those defending themselves against predators, bioluminescence can be used to distract or even divert attention. Bomber worms actually eject glowing green masses that redirect a predator’s attention!

Other marine animals use the light as a lure to find food. Consider the anglerfish, which has a light rod protruding from its head. This light coaxes prey to come closer, at which point the anglerfish snaps its impressive jaws around its meal. Certain squids flash light to stun their prey.

In one of the most fascinating uses of bioluminescence, counter-illumination, the light pattern on the bottom of a fish replicates the appearance of faint sunlight from above, so the fish is invisible to predators looking for food from below.

For all we’ve learned, we still known very little about how these mysterious creatures use their bioluminescent capabilities, and access to these incredible animals is a challenge for researchers. The very qualities that make them so fascinating also make them almost impossible to study.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other organizations are researching this deep frontier in an effort to better understand the 90 percent of the ocean yet unexplored.

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VIDEO: National Aquarium’s Present and Future

Our CEO John Racanelli visited Center Maryland earlier this week to discuss the success of conservation and education efforts, our stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay and our newest exhibit, Blacktip Reef.

In many ways, the creation of our newest exhibit is the mark of an exciting new chapter for our organization. As Center Maryland’s Damien O’ Doherty put it, “You’re not just seeing a new exhibit, in many ways you’re seeing a new Aquarium.”

As a 33-year-old institution, our hometown of Baltimore and the State of Maryland have integral parts of what we have been able to accomplish and what we continue to do in the community and the Chesapeake Bay region.

Watch John discuss our future in part one of his interview: 

Stay tuned for part two! 


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