Aug 5, 2009 | 1
Nestled within the new Pacific Remote Islands Marine Monument lies Palmyra Atoll, one of the last pristine coral reefs left on the planet some 960 nautical miles south of Hawaii. Or near pristine. In 1991 a 100-foot longline fishing ship—the "Hui Feng No. 1"—foundered on the reef under mysterious circumstances. In the wake of that shipwreck, a destructive species of corallimorpharian—a kind of half-coral, half-anemone sea creature—began to take over the reef.
In the intervening years, the species has spread to cover nearly two square kilometers of the reef, though its density declines the further from the shipwreck you go, ultimately disappearing entirely in more undisturbed areas. Near the shipwreck, however, this Rhodactis howesii has overgrown the underlying reef, killing its coral cousins. It also crops up near buoys in the area. "They are very aggressive…and use specialized anatomic structures called 'sweeper tentacles' that have stinging cells," says wildlife veterinarian Thierry Work of the U.S. Geological Survey, who has studied the problem. "These tentacles are used to kill adjacent organisms, like corals, so as to capture real estate."
Aug 8, 2008 | 4
The thawing of the fabled Northwest Passage on Canada's north coast isn't just an opportunity for humans to cut shipping times between Asia, Europe and North America—or squabble over oil. It's also an opportunity for the tough shellfish species that thrive in the northern Pacific to colonize the gentler environs of the northern Atlantic, according to new research in Science.
Last year—thanks to global warming—said passage cleared for the first time in recorded history as the ice that covers the Arctic Ocean dwindled to a record minimum. This year is shaping up to be another low and scientists project that the Arctic could be ice free by the summer of 2050--or sooner.
Warmer waters (and water that is not beneath an ice sheet) means plankton—food for these mollusks—enabling them to slowly spread across the Arctic Ocean and into the Atlantic. They've done it before. The fossil record shows that a similar invasion of clams, oysters, snails and slugs took place in the Pliocene era (roughly 3.5 million years ago)—the last time the Arctic was ice free.
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