Perhaps the saddest thing about the continuing worsening of the ocean’s chemistry towards toxic waste dump status is that when sea life is gone–other than the absence of gulls in the air and fishing boats on the horizon and seafood restaurants–we will have lost countless creatures that were never even named, as well as so many known species we never really knew apart from an occasional deep-trawler extraction or National Geographic special.
We are cut off from the sea’s reality and fate by the boundary between air and water, a duality of denial and indifference based on the medium of our lives and theirs.
One such group that I’ve not thought about since Invertebrate Zoology days decades ago is a group of lowliest-possible chordates called the Tunicates. Take a look at the diversity in the group here–this is really worth a minute.
Then realize these creatures not only exist. In many oceans, these sack-like filter feeders are vastly abundant and important in the food web that includes sea turtles that consumes a kind of tunicate called “pyrosomes” in large quantities. Pyro as in fire: these creatures are among the most spectacularly bioluminescent creatures on the planet.
And they are dying in huge numbers now in the Gulf of Mexico with oil toxins in their tissues. Apparently the turtles will eat the toxic pyrosomes that tend to float after death. So that if the oil doesn’t kill them directly, these turtles still take a hard hit from the oil.
The chemical state of the oceans discussed in this piece in Forbes Magazine is going to get a lot more attention soon, especially after the release of the paper last week that revealed the plight of the world’s marine phytoplankton, about which more soon.
See also this NPR piece on the subject from this past week.