Welcome to 2017 and the January YMB Blog!

Hello and Happy New Year YMB Members! First of all, I hope you enjoyed a wonderful Festive Season and are looking forward to the adventures and challenges ahead. This month’s Blog brings you the usual exciting marine biology news and a very interesting, and hopefully inspiring article from YMB member Stephen Cheung. A very big thank you to Stephen for sharing his story. Additionally, because Winter is in full swing, and it has been particularly cold in this corner of the world (Europe), the species highlight section is dedicated to the beautiful cold water coral Lophelia pertusa. Finally, we would like to invite you to join fellow MBA members at the upcoming Member-only Crab Watch Survey.

And remember, we would love you to contribute to the content of this blog as much as possible. Please share your stories, reports, finds and photos with us. Sharing your photos, writing, art work comments or questions with us for use in future blog content and bulletins may earn you an exclusive MBA pin badge! (see picture) email to: ymb@mba.ac.uk or share with us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram

Latest Marine Biology News

Detail of a DNA molecule (representation). Image Creative Commons

Most of us have probably heard of DNA, which is an essential molecule for life. It is present in every cell of all living organisms, and works like a set of instructions that determine the characteristics of an individual. This set of instructions contained in the DNA is collectively referred to as the genome. Living organisms are somehow related according to similarities and differences in the set of instructions of their DNA and studying DNA has become a very useful tool in many aspects of science. For example, the study and manipulation of DNA helps better understand how life works, which can then help in the development of new treatments. And this is what researchers in the USA had in mind when mapping the whole genome of the gulf pipefish. Pipefish, a snake like fish, belong to an ancient family of fish that include sea-horses and sea dragons that have generated bodies with vastly different features over time.  Scientists hope to come closer to better understanding aspects of human development and biology such as how skulls develop and change. As this study provides the whole story told by the DNA of one of the members in this family (the gulf pipefish), other scientists will now be able to use this information to conduct further studies looking for differences at the DNA (molecular) level that are associated with observable differences such as different body shapes.

As mentioned above, DNA can also be used to investigate relatedness by comparing samples from many individuals, and this is what was done with humpback whales. By doing so, scientists can better understand the movements of these animals and how different populations are related, which in turn helps inform management and conservation policies needed for the protection of threatened species. Read more about this story here.

Marine biologists and enthusiasts share a love and fascination for the world beneath the waves. Although it is not in any way a requirement, many of us choose to obtain SCUBA diving qualifications that enable us humans to spend time underwater, both for enjoyment and research purposes. It should be noted that SCUBA diving is associated with many risks, so to minimise these, health and safety aspects are taken very seriously by the industry. A new study has revealed however that dental problems might have been overlooked in the fitness considerations required to become a certified SCUBA diver. So, if you ever consider taking up SCUBA diving, remember to check the health of your teeth!

Once again scientists and engineers are finding inspiration and solutions in the marine environment. Research is being conducted at the University of Nottingham to develop shopping bags from prawn shells. Most currently used plastic is oil-based and non-biodegradable, meaning that it is harmful to the environment at many levels, including during production and when it finds its ways into the environment, including the ocean. Plastic has however become very useful for society, including use in food packaging and in extending the shelf-life of products. So finding ‘greener’ alternatives that are less harmful to the environment must be worth investing in. To find out more about plastic in the marine environment, including problems and solutions, watch this talk by Richard Thompson here at the MBA last year.

Member Article: Improving my skills as a Young Marine Biologist

YMB member Stephen Cheung is going through that all important stage of making decisions that will shape his future professional career. With this in mind, Stephen has decided to take advantage of the benefits accessible to him and is sharing his story with you, fellow YMB members, who are likely to be now or in the future, in similar circumstances.

My name is Stephen Cheung and I’m in my last year of Sixth Form. Marine Biology is something that I’ve wanted to do at university for a long time, and while starting my UCAS application, there was one thing I was lacking; experience. I live in a city called Lincoln, which is about an hour’s drive from the shore and made work experience difficult to come by. When I found the Short Course on Rocky Shore Species Identification by the MBA, I thought if I’m going to travel, I’m going to travel far. My school offers bursaries for Sixth Formers to help pay for anything related to their subjects, and after applying I was awarded £180, which covered the train tickets from Lincoln to Plymouth and back, as well as the course fee. I had only been to Plymouth once before, and that was for the university open day. There were about 11 of us at the course, and I was the youngest. Over the two days, Jack Sewell gave us loads of information about the rocky shores, seaweeds, crustaceans and loads more. We had two trips, one to just outside the MBA and another to Mount Batten, where we were identifying things like top shells and crabs, and collected some samples to take back to the labs to identify. We looked at specimens under the microscope, to try and identify which species we collected. One hermit crab that two others and I successfully identified was Anapagurus hyndmanni. I was also able to talk with the other participants who went to university to study Marine Biology, and get an insight to what it was like and ask some questions I had. Thank you Jack Sewell for such an amazing two days, it was a great experience and has made me so excited to study it at University next year!

By: Stephen Cheung,  YMB 17 years old

Common brittlestar Ophiothrix fragilis. Image Stephen Cheung

Species Highlight

Lophelia A stony coral. Image Creative Commons

Lophelia pertusa is a cold-water coral that forms patches of bushy growths composed of a network of anastomosing branches that, under favourable conditions, eventually grow into reefs. These reefs provide a habitat for a variety of species and the living and dead coral skeletons provide a biodiversity ‘hot spot’, providing shelter and a surface of attachment for other species.

The deep waters where Lophelia pertusa reefs occur are generally found in areas of elevated current and were undisturbed by human activity until recently. Fishing trawlers are now operating in the deeper water where Lophelia pertusa occurs and causing damage to the reefs. Additionally, researchers at the University of Edinburgh used computer models to simulate the migration of the coral’s young (larvae) across vast stretches of ocean, and found that a shift in average winter conditions (one of the predicted impacts of climate change) could threaten coral populations by affecting the dispersal of Lophelia pertusa’s larvae.

Find out more about this story here, and visit the MarLIN pages here to find out more about this species.

Upcoming Member-only Survey: Crab Watch

Velvet swimming crab (Necora puber). Image MBA

The next MBA member-only event is taking place at Broad Ledge, Lyme Regis on February the 12th. We will be surveying crabs!

Crab Watch is a new MBA citizen science project. It is part of the European Sea Change Project. All participants will be briefed on the survey protocol and how to identify species. We will undertake a timed search for crab species and record our findings.

We promise a fun day out, while contributing meaningful abundance and distribution data as part of a Europe-wide initiative. Please come along if you can (please note anyone under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult, who doesn’t need to be a member).

For more information and to register for the event please visit our Eventbrite page here.

Jan 17, 2017 By elibas