Deep Ecology

Aeon’s featured videos are always stimulating and informative. This one is also eerily beautiful in time-lapse of sea stars and proboscis worms (and large numbers of tiny insect-like crustaceans) feeding on the corpse of a seal in the Arctic Ocean.

The first thing, other than the visual eye candy, was to remind me that there has been a rich biodiversity of life in those cold, mineral-rich waters. The ocean is desert with its life underground you might say–hat tip to Neil Young.

The second thing to come to me on viewing this short BBC clip is that this ecosystem we are watching here is in great peril. Ocean salinity, pH and temperature, as well as changing species mix of out- and in-migrating fish and invertebrates–all these factors are changing more rapidly due to climate chaos than these organisms can adapt to.

We are only recently coming to understand the intricate and essential threads of connection between organisms that perpetuate a steady-state health in land and sea ecosystems. What we know COULD  help us step back from the tipping points we can’t see above the surface. We can’t say we don’t know the consequences of inaction.

This short and very well illustrated video makes clear that the biodiversity of these communities in tundra, desert, wetlands, forest, woodland and coral reef settings around the world can disappear abruptly after a certain degree of perturbation. And when they are gone, they are gone forever.

Lastly, I had to dig deep to remember much about the Nemertean worms that I only know about from an Invertebrate Zoology class some year just after the last ice age. The longest is over 150 feet long! They are anatomically quite primitive, but as you see in the video, are very abundant and active. More about proboscis worms.

And so, just as a raccoon corpse in our woods will be invaded by dermestid beetles, carrion beetles and various flies, there is a clean-up crew in the oceans that includes a vast variety of opportunists. Should they disappear from the scene…

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Thanks for doing your part in setting off some alarm bells. But we are so busy doing important things like watching a battle of political non-wits on television that we are not paying attention. Except recently–I think things are beginning to change.