Despite a number of recent high-profile terrorist attacks, France remains the world’s most visited country.
The numbers are going up, in fact: last year, the French welcomed 89 million foreign tourists, 8% more than in 2016.
But how familiar are those visitors with the many splendors of France?
Here’s a test: quickly, name your favorite French museum, city, wine region and beach.
Most likely answers: the Louvre, Paris, Bordeaux (or Burgundy) and the Côte d'Azur.
Hot and glamorous, the Côte d'Azur is the jewel in the crown of French seaside tourism.
It’s also crowded and pricey.
However, as this map shows, it’s just one of 36 named coastlines stretching along the country’s Atlantic and Mediterranean shores.
Commonly referred to in English as the French Riviera, the Côte d'Azur covers the eastern part of France’s Mediterranean coast.
The term was coined by Stéphen Liégeard, who used it as the title for his 1887 book about his travels along the coast of the Provence in France and beyond, to Genoa in Italy.
'Azure' is the heraldic term for 'blue'; he was perhaps inspired by his home département of Côte d’or.
Côte also means 'slope', and in the case of the Côte d'Or, the color
refers to the vines in autumn.
The Côte d'Or is in the wine-making
region of Burgundy; its capital is Dijon.
'Côte d'Azur' quickly caught on, but only for the French part of the coast.
Hoping to emulate the success of their azure counterpart, many other French coasts were named soon thereafter, often after minerals, metals or colors.
Each has its own particular history, climate, geography and charm.
Below is a sample of some of the more remarkable stretches.
The Côte d'Opale (Opal Coast) was named in 1911 by local Édouard Lévêque, in homage to the region's changeable light.
Go here for two illustrious capes: Blanc-Nez ('White Nose') and Gris-Nez ('Grey Nose'), the closest point between Europe and England, only 34 km (21 mi) from the white cliffs of Dover.
The Côte Fleurie (Flowered Coast) refers to the flowering apple trees in the interior.
Dotting the coast are Deauville, Honfleur and other renowned seaside resorts – not forgetting Balbec, the fictional one from Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu.
The beaches of the Cote de Nacre (Mother-of-pearl Coast) are better known by their D-Day code names: Gold, Juno and Sword.
The Baie du mont Saint-Michel (Bay of Mont Saint-Michel): A Unesco World Heritage site, this part of the Golf of Saint-Malo dividing Brittany from Normandy is dominated by the Mont Saint-Michel, a tidal island topped by a medieval abbey and pilgrimage site.
The Côte de granit rose (Pink Granite Coast) is one of three pink granite coasts in the world: the others are on Corsica and in China.
The Ceinture dorée (the Golden Belt) was so named applied around 1880, in reference to the region’s rich horticultural tradition. It's where the so-called johnnies come from: cross-Channel migrant workers who established the archetype of the French onion-seller in Britain.
The Côte des Légendes (Coast of Legends): The legends refer to the family of giants that once lived here, and threw rocks around, resulting in the huge granite boulders that mark this coastline.
The Côte des Abers (Coast of Inlets): In 1978, the Amoco Cadiz sank in this area, creating one of the world's most notorious oil spills.
The Côte de Cornouaille (The Coast of Cornouaille): In the early Middle Ages, the region was settled by princes from Cornwall, hence the name.
Much later, Gauguin was a frequent visitor.
A spectacular outcrop, the Pointe du Raz is a Brittany's most visited natural feature.
The Côte d'Amour (Coast of Love): The name, chosen in 1913 by the readers of a weekly magazine, does not – as claimed by some – refer to the prevalence of love-making on the beaches.
The Côte de Jade (Jade Coast): Legend has it that the name was thought up by a local mayor, who suddenly noticed that his socks had the same color as the ocean.
The Côte de Lumière (The Coast of Light): Location of Les Sables-d'Olonne, the only resort on France's Atlantic Coast endowed with not one, but two casinos.
The Côte de Beauté (Coast of Beauty): Named in 1931 in the course of a Miss Europe contest.
The Côte camarguaise (Coast of the Camargue): The Rhône river delta is Europe's largest wetland – a wild and undeveloped zone contested by land and water.
We all love to plan a journey, and the adventures of a lifetime are no different.
Conquering Mount Everest or Hiking the Appalachian Trail, whatever your journey, it takes a well thought out plan, proper equipment, secure funding and lots of determination and intelligence.
Taking a journey in a barrel, however, is not something most of us would think when we plan a journey.
From the courageous dare devils who scaled the side of Niagara Falls to plunge into its watery depths, either perishing or surviving.
Today we have a modern-day sportsman who is a former seasoned para trooper and park ranger named Jean-Jacques Savin doing what might be considered the unthinkable.
Jean-Jacques Savin a Frenchman has begun a journey across the Atlantic Ocean this week, departing from Spain.
Uncertain of where he will land, he packed accordingly with Foie Gras and wine in his under 75 square foot barrel made of plywood that is orange and coated with resin.
Previously he has journeyed across the Atlantic by sailboat, so he is prepared with a barrel complete with sleeping and cooking quarters and a window with a view.
His barrel will protect him from the possibility of being attacked by Orca Whales if they should be near.
His vessel has solar power panels that provide energy for GPS tracking and communications for him.
He will be celebrating his birthday while in the vessel during the month of January and plans to celebrate with a fine bottle of wine, and possibly a lovely ocean view.
This smart sportsman is assisting the international marine observatory by dropping markers to help them research ocean currents.
He has taken his journey to travel across the Atlantic through only the assistance of the sea and hope to land on a French Island in the Caribbean some 3000 nautical miles away from where he began.
He is estimating that he will land sometime in March of 2019.
Most of his funding came from Sponsorships and Crowdfunding.
He will be tracking and posting his progress on Facebook for those who are wishing to follow his journey’s progress across the Atlantic and see where he might end up.
He posted 2 days ago that “The weather is great. And the vessel is “Behaving Well” which is very encouraging for us all who want to see him succeed on his journey.
Where ever his journey may take him, we are certain it will be memorable for us all.
So, lets wish him a bon voyage and keep track of his progress and check in periodically.
Even though we are not actually on the journey ourselves we can still share in his trials and triumphs with each bob he takes in the sea.
With a favorite quote of Aide Toi Le Ciel T Aidera, Help Yourself and Heaven Will Help You, we can see that he is a man of great faith and strength.
With rich Caribbean fishing grounds on their doorstep, the villagers of Cedros in Trinidad are never short of fishermen's tales to tell.
The latest stories to do the rounds though, are not about record-breaking hauls of kingfish.
Today the fishermen themselves have become the catch.
"I was out picking up my nets late one afternoon when a boatload of armed men came at me at full speed," said Brian Austin, 54.
"From about 200 metres away they started firing shots around my boat - it was terrifying.Luckily, I have a high-powered engine, so I managed to speed off, but they took my nets and all the fish in them."
On that occasion, Mr Austin was the one that got away.
Other local fishermen tell tales of being robbed of their boats, beaten, and even kidnapped - all victims of a new wave of pirates sweeping the Caribbean.
Operating with speedboats rather than tall ships, they have made the waters around Trinidad just as perilous as they were in Blackbeard’s day.
As with Mr Austin's ordeal, most of the attacks off Trinidad's coastline take place just before sunset, allowing the culprits to flee under the cover of darkness.
Nobody, though, has any doubt where they escape to - Venezuela, where years of economic meltdown under socialist President Nicolas Maduro has hundreds of jobless fishermen - and in some cases the national coastguard - into buccaneering.
Cedros, Trinidad & Tobago with the GeoGarage platform (DHNV nautical chart)
As the southernmost island in the Caribbean, Trinidad lies just ten miles from the Venezuelan mainland, from where the pirates operate out of impoverished coastal fishing towns like Güiria.
Once home to a thriving fishing industry, today Güiria has become a modern-day answer to Hispaniola, the Caribbean pirate haven of the 17th century.
Many of the pirates are thought to be ex-employees of Venezuela’s tuna fleet, which collapsed after a disastrous nationalisation program imposed by Mr Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
"Güiria is now a very bad place," said Jose Gonzalez, a computer technician who left the town to seek work in Trinidad two years ago.
He spoke under a pseudonym, fearing reprisals for criticising Mr Maduro’s government.
"It is a real shame - the hardship there has changed the people's mentality."
Fishermen in Trinidad are falling prey to pirates from Venezuela
Güiria’s lurch into sea banditry has echoes of the Somali piracy crisis, where impoverished fishermen likewise turned to hijacking passing vessels after the country's collapse in the 1990s.
But while the Somali pirates ranged far out to sea to hijack huge cargo ships, the Venezuelan pirates have so far stuck closer to shore.
That means most of their victims are fellow fishermen from Trinidad, who are not much wealthier than they are.
"I've had my nets stolen three times now, which has cost me about $120,000TT (£14,000)," said Mr Austin, who has now given up fishing as a result.
"These waters are becoming very dangerous, and it's us hardworking fishermen who are paying the price."
In the nearby Trinidadian village of Icacos, a short drive from Cedros through groves of coconut trees, Esook Ali, a local fishing association leader, said hijackings now took place nearly every week.
"Sometimes they just get robbed, other times they are taken to the Venezuelan mainland and held prisoner until a ransom is paid," he said.
"The ransom demands started off at just $5,000 or $10,000, but last week we had one for $33,000.
People round here struggle to afford that.
We've asked the coast guard for escorts but they've given us nothing."
Many of the pirates are thought to be ex-employees of Venezuela’s tuna fleet, now bust under the socialist regime's mishandled reforms
credit : Colin Freeman
The pirates are also prolific smugglers, running boatloads of cocaine and guns from Venezuela into Trinidad.
Many of the firearms are thought to have come from members of Venezuela's underpaid security forces, who sell them to make ends meet.
The same smugglers then return to Venezuela loaded up with stockpiles of nappies, cooking oil, and rice - all of which are now in desperately short supply back home.
Since hyperinflation hit of more than 1,000,000 per cent, such basic commodities can fetch up to four times their value on Venezuela's black market.
In a sign of frayed Venezuela’s institutions have become, hijackings are also being carried out by Venezuelan coast guard patrols, who arrest Trinidadian fishermen on trumped-up charges of illegal fishing.
"We were fishing in Trinidadian waters one day when the Venezuelan coastguard came and told us we'd strayed into their waters, even though we were nowhere near," said Vijay Hajarie, 53, from the Trinidad village of Fullerton, where long fishing pirogues line the beach.
"They said we could either pay $3,000 there and then or we'd be taken to jail."
Unable to pay on the spot, Mr Hajarie and his crewmates ended up spending seven weeks in a squalid Venezuelan prison.
"It was terrifying - we were ordinary fishermen in with hardened criminals," he said.
"Our families eventually paid a fine of $500 to get us released, but our boat was confiscated."
A Trinidadian coast guard vessel patrols the Gulf of Paria between Trinidad and the east coast of Venezuela.
credit : Jahi Chikwendiu (WP)
To counter the threats, many Trinidadian fishermen have taken to only fishing only at night with their lights out.
Others have upgraded their boat engines from 75hp to 200hp, to improve their chances of a swift getaway.
But it is not just Trinidad's fishing communities who are worried.
The island’s police fear that the influx of drugs and guns is fuelling violent crime, already near an all-time high.
Despite its tourist-friendly image, Trinidad's capital, Port of Spain, is home to numerous tough ghettoes.
In slums like Laventille, where Trinidad's steel pan music was born, army and police patrols were increased back in the summer to quell a long-running gang war, which pushed this year's annual murder tally to more than 500.
Given that Trinidad has just 1.3m people, it makes the murder rate roughly 20 times that of London.
Thanks to the island's proximity to Venezuela, it is already a staging post for Latin American cocaine cartels supplying Europe and America.
In 2014, US officials blamed the assassination of a Trinidadian state prosecutor on "transnational" drug cartels, some of whom are believed to have local police and coast guard officials on their payrolls.
Despite its tourist-friendly image, Trinidad's capital, Port of Spain, is home to numerous tough ghettoes
credit : Colin Freeman
In August, amid rising public concern about the crime rate, the government appointed a former soldier, Gary Griffith, as a new-broom police commissioner.
He has already won acclaim by vowing to wage war on the gangs, declaring: "If they have no fear of God, I will make sure they have a fear of Gary."
Even his supporters, though, concede he has an uphill task.
While local police now make regular seizures of Venezuelan drugs and weapons stashes, they are believed to be only a fraction of the total.
According to a former British police advisor to the Trinidadian government, corruption is a serious problem.
"When I was there, the police said that some of their own officers were bringing drugs in," the advisor told The Telegraph.
"The average policeman's pay is a pittance compared to what the cartels will offer."
Meanwhile, there seems little prospect of an end to the crisis in Venezuela, where the US placed fresh sanctions on the government earlier this year after accusing Mr Maduro of winning a second term by vote rigging.
With the currency now worthless, shops and hospitals empty of food and medicines, and with opposition parties banned, many now fear a civil war.
Already, more than 3 million Venezuelans have fled abroad as refugees, an estimated 40,000 of them to Trinidad.
"The only way Maduro will go now is by blood," added Mr Gonzalez, who is now scratching a living as a watchman in a Trinidad marina.
"Life is hard here, but it's better than Venezuela - there every day is hell."
Captain James Cook's incredible epic voyages of discovery are as controversial now after 250 years as ever.
In light of recent public debate in this new six-part series, Sam Neill re-examines Cook's legacy, delivering new perspectives from the Pacific cultures left in Cook's wake.
Cook first set sail to the Pacific in 1768.
These vast waters, one third of the Earth's surface, were uncharted - but not unknown.
A rich diversity of people and cultures navigated, traded, lived and fought here for thousands of years. Before Cook, the Pacific was disconnected from the power and ideas of Europe, Asia and America.
In the wake of Cook, everything changed.
In conjunction with the 250th anniversary of the HMS Endeavour's departure from England, actor and raconteur Sam Neill takes a deeply personal, present-day voyage to map his own understanding of James Cook, Europe's greatest navigator, and the immense Pacific Ocean itself. Setting sail on a great ocean tanker as well as many a smaller craft, Sam crosses the length and breadth of the largest ocean in the world to experience for himself a contemporary journey in Cook's footsteps.
Endeavour: The Ship and the Attitude that Changed the World. By Peter Moore
One clear moonlit night in June 1770, James Cook ran into yet more proof of how remarkable the newly explored continent of Australia was.
Literally: his ship, Endeavour, ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef.
The next 23 hours were spent bailing water in terror, until finally Endeavour slid free.
Ship, captain and the intelligence he had gathered returned to England—and a rapturous welcome.
Rarely has a craft been so well named.
As Peter Moore shows in his new book, Endeavour was more than merely the first English vessel to reach New Zealand and Australia’s east coast.
She was also a floating laboratory, a vast seed-bank and an international observatory.
Along with sails and anchors she carried telescopes, microscopes, two artists and several scientists.
Endeavour was the spirit of the Enlightenment under sail.
At the time (1770) Captain Cook's map of New Zealand was remarkably accurate
She was also much less elegant than is Mr Moore’s immersive account of her life, from acorn to ending.
The ideals she came to serve belied her earthy beginnings.
Built in Whitby of Yorkshire oak, twisted and hardened by Yorkshire winds, Endeavour had been designed to carry not intellectuals but coal.
When Australian Aboriginals first saw her, they imagined she was a “big bird” with animals clustering about her wings.
Her crew referred to their matronly ship as “Mrs Endeavour”.
Yet when Britain decided to seek out Terra Australis, she was the craft chosen for the perilous undertaking.
It had been over two millennia since Aristotle discussed the idea of a southern continent in which men would stand with their feet (-podes) opposite (anti-) those of Europeans.
A century before Cook, a Dutch seaman called Abel Tasman had returned with reports of a land whose people were “rough, uncivilised, full of verve”.
Yet still the bottom-right corner of maps remained indistinct.
It was a tantalising smudge.
This was the great age of labels, in which educated men roamed the earth naming and (they felt) taming it.
Surveying the world today is like looking at a schoolboy’s desk: the scratched names remain, even if many of the boys are forgotten.
This enjoyable book breathes life into characters better remembered for their namesakes than themselves: Tasman (Tasmania), Louis Antoine de Bougainville (bougainvillea) and Carl Linnaeus (Linnaean classification).
Captain James Cook FRS (7 November 1728 – 14 February 1779) was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy.
Cook made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.
Cook joined the British merchant navy as a teenager and joined the Royal Navy in 1755.
He saw action in the Seven Years' War, and subsequently surveyed and mapped much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege of Quebec.
This helped bring Cook to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society.
This notice came at a crucial moment in both Cook's career and the direction of British overseas exploration, and led to his commission in 1766 as commander of HM Bark Endeavour for the first of three Pacific voyages.
In three voyages Cook sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe.
He mapped lands from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in greater detail and on a scale not previously achieved.
As he progressed on his voyages of discovery he surveyed and named features, and recorded islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time.
He displayed a combination of seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage and an ability to lead men in adverse conditions.
Cook was attacked and killed while attempting to kidnap Kalaniʻōpuʻu, a Hawaiian chief, during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific in 1779.
He left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge which was to influence his successors well into the 20th century, and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him.
The Royal Society, the moving spirit behind Endeavour’s mission, was less concerned with colonisation than with science.
Its chief interest was in observing the transit of Venus: by measuring its duration from both hemispheres, the data could be used to accurately calculate the distance of the sun.
Botany was a close second.
By the summer of 1768 the team had been chosen.
On July 30th Cook, his crew and a bumptious young botanist named Joseph Banks left their last London anchorage.
Their triumphant voyage changed the world.
Its very map could be redrawn; the sun could be set more securely in the sky and, thanks to Banks’s samples, the catalogue of known plants increased by a fifth.
The reputation (and in some cases egos) of Endeavour’s crew swelled similarly.
Linnaeus was so impressed by the trip that he gave Banks his own binomial classification, addressing a letter to “Immortalis Banks”.
Banks was not the sort to demur.
He may be immortal; Endeavour was not.
She limped on, transporting first food to the Falkland Islands, then troops to the American war of independence, before finally being scuttled off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1778.
Over the course of 2018, we have seen how human impacts and global climate change are rapidly altering the world's oceans.
While the war against ocean plastic escalated to new levels this past year, the extent of our plastic problem also became clearer.
For example, plastic was discovered 36,000 feet below sea level in the Marianas Trench, the deepest point in the ocean.
Additionally, whales washed up on Thai and Indonesian beaches earlier this year with over a dozen pounds of plastic in their stomachs.
And, while there is a highly publicized effort underway to remove some of the ocean plastic, the technology may not be effective and could prove harmful to wildlife.
FREE - that´s what I thought, standing in the sea, after watching the sundowner at Jericoacoara/Brazil on top of the famous dune. After running down the steep face of finest white sand, it´s just a few steps on the black sanded beach until you touch the water. Standing on the shore feeling the salty water surrounding my feet is what makes me happy the most. How simple is that?
Quite possibly the most pronounced impact has been multiple record-breaking warming events occurring around the world.
San Diego saw its warmest summer temperatures in a century.
A combination of warm waters and agricultural pollution caused Florida's worst red tide event in a decade.
Nearly half of the Great Barrier Reef is already bleached and a record-breaking heatwave that occurred north of Queensland in November may cause further bleaching in 2019.
And, as of this month, 95% the Arctic's oldest ice has already melted away.
While there are many reasons to be concerned about the oceans' well-being, I thought it would be nice to hone in a few reasons to be optimistic about the world's oceans in 2019.
1. There Are Unknown Ocean Habitats Waiting To Be Found
Live Lophelia colonies are bright white to slightly pink in color, which distinguishes them from the underlying darker dead coral matrix.
Not only did U.S. scientists discover a massive deep-sea coral reef near the South Carolina coast this past summer, but around the same time, they found nearly 1,000 previously unknown methane seeps along the Pacific Northwest coast.
More recently, scientists learned about a series of hydrothermal vents (named Jaich Maa) harboring a wide diversity of life almost 12,500 feet below sea level in the Gulf of California's Pescadero Basin.
2. More Of The Ocean Is Protected From Human Activity
This year, the United Kingdom called for 30% of the oceans to be protected within the next decade.
But, even without this announcement, many nations took major steps towards protecting their coastlines.
Argentina established two new marine parks that together cover the same area as the nation of Hungary.
Similarly, the government of the Seychelles instituted two marine parks whose cumulative size is similar to that of Great Britain.
New Caledonia, a French territory near Australia, announced four new marine protected areas intended to protect coral reefs and almost 11,000 square miles of ocean.
And, South Africa recently established 20 new marine protected areas along its coasts.
Although the severity and quality of these protections differs among such efforts, improving these measures is certainly a step towards better marine conservation.
3. There Are New Species To Be Discovered
While biologists named 17 new sea slug species living in tropical and temperate coastal zones, most of this year's discoveries happened in the deep sea.
Nearly 25,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, researchers found three new species of snailfish.
In an underwater mountain range near Tasmania that has been protected for almost 20 years, scientists discovered a new species of deep sea coral.
Similarly, at least 100 new species may have been found among seamounts in deep waters near Bermuda.
Achieving UN SDG 14 is essential for meeting a number of the other goals Image: Nereus Program
4. Coral Reefs May Be More Resilient Than We Think
Although coral reefs have become harbingers of the consequences of climate change in the world's oceans, there is some evidence that they may be able to survive warming events.
Specifically, a new study suggestes that corals that lived through the intense marine heatwave in 2016 were able to endure additional warming events in 2017.
This indicates that surviving a warming event may make corals more resistant to similar incidents in the future.
Additionally, Brazilian reefs have been especially hearty in the face of warming and better understanding Brazilian corals' secrets for surviving rising temperatures may be beneficial for other corals around the world.
Further, because wastewater can stress reefs, the United Nations is working to develop waste management plans to prevent corals from being chronically exposed to sewage pollution.
5. Some Fisheries Are Recovering
Many West Coast groundfish species (such as rockfish), whose catch limits have been severely constrained, are recovering faster than expected.
These fisheries were virtually closed for two decades after coming to the brink of collapse.
But starting January 1, 2019, the National Marine Fisheries Service plans to double catch limits for groundfish and other species.
This change could inject nearly $60 million in fishing income into Pacific coast fishing communities.
The Madagascar Pochard is considered by many to be the world's rarest bird.
Although it was considered extinct nearly a decade ago, several researchers re-introduced 21 of these captively bred ducks to a lake in Northern Madagascar earlier this week.
A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky
by Lewis Carroll (author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland)
From the most ancient animal known to a newly defined ocean zone, the world’s watery places never cease to amaze
As 2018 draws to a close, we look back on the studies, expeditions and stories that carried forward our knowledge and understanding of the world’s oceans—the lifeblood of the planet.
It was a year filled with triumphs, from the first successful revival of coral larvae following cryofreezing, to an optimistic progress report for the Chesapeake Bay’s restoration, to global awareness about single-use plastic straws.
It was also a year of discovery.
We learned of a shark that chows on greens, an entire new ocean zone teeming with life, and one of the earliest animals to ever live here on Earth.
The year also had its moments of grief and distress in the seas.
Noxious red tides, right whale populations that continue to decline, and the passing of a coral reef science legend are also on our minds as we look back at the oceans of 2018.
The following list of the year’s top ten ocean stories—the unique, troubling, perplexing and optimistic—was curated by the National Museum of Natural History’s Ocean Portal team.
An Odorous Stench
Red tide algae blooms on the coast of Florida.
For those living in or visiting Florida this year, you may have noticed a particularly noxious stench lingering in the air.
This year the coastal waters of Florida are experiencing one of the worst red tides in recent history.
The tide is caused by a bloom of algae that feed on nutrient-rich runoff from farms and fertilized lawns.
Over 300 sea turtles, 100 manatees, innumerable fish and many dolphins have been killed by the noxious chemicals expelled by the algae.
Humans, too, can feel the effect of the fumes that waft onto the land, and beaches have closed because of hazardous conditions.
Many see this as a wake-up call for better management of the chemicals and nutrients that fuel the harmful algae’s growth.
Researchers first discovered Dickinsonia fossils back in 1946.
Evolution produces some wonderous marvels.
Scientists determined that the creature called Dickinsonia, a flat, mushroom-top-shaped creature that roamed the ocean floor roughly 580 million years ago, is the earliest known animal.
Examining the mummified fat of a particular fossil, the scientists were able to show that the fat was animal-like, rather than plant-like or fungi-like, thus earning it the animal designation.
We also learned that baleen whales may have evolved from a toothless ancestor that vacuumed its prey in the prehistoric oceans of 30 to 33 million years ago.
Today, evolution is still at work, and the adaptability of life continues to amaze. A study of the Bajau “Sea Nomad” people’s DNA show that a life at sea has changed their DNA.
This group of people, who can spend over five hours underwater per day, have alterations in their genetics that help them stay submerged for longer.
Marvels in Plain Sight
Up to 1,000 octopus moms care for their brood.
(Phil Torres / Geoff Wheat)
Once again, we were reminded that as land dwelling creatures, humans miss out on many of the ocean’s everyday wonders.
Although we know from museum specimens that the male anglerfish latches onto the female like a parasite and sucks nutrients from her blood, the infamous duo has never been caught in the act—until now.
This year, a video was released showing the male anglerfish paired with his lady counterpart.
And though sharks are known for their carnivorous appetites, a new study shows even these marine predators will eat leafy greens.
About 60 percent of the bonnethead shark’s diet consists of seagrass, upending the idea that all sharks are primarily carnivores.
Also, scientists discovered not one, but two, mass octopus nurseries of up to 1,000 octopus moms deep underwater.
The second discovery assuaged doubts that the initial discovery was a case of confused octomoms, as octopuses are known to be solitary creatures.
Now, scientists are determining if volcanic activity on the seafloor provides some benefit to the developing brood.
The field of coral reef biology has weathered some hard times these past years, and while this year saw the unfortunate death of a coral reef conservation legend, Dr.
Ruth Gates, it also brought us a glimmer of hope.
For the first time, scientists were able to revive coral larvae that were flash frozen—a breakthrough that may enable the preservation of endangered corals in the face of global climate change.
Previously, the formation of harmful ice crystals destroyed the larvae’s cells during the warming process, but now the team has devised a method that uses both lasers and an antifreeze solution infused with gold particles to rapidly heat the frozen larvae and avoid crystal formation.
Soon after thawing, the larvae are able to happily swim about.
We now live in a world where oceans frequently spike to temperatures too hot for corals, and scientists hope that preserving them may buy time to help corals adapt to the rapidly changing environment.
The Impacts of Ocean Warming
Rising temperatures and diminishing oxygen levels in the oceans are a threat to all kinds of marine life.
Just this month a study showed that the mass die off of species at the end of the Permian period, over 250 million years ago, was caused by a rapid increase in temperature and subsequent loss of oxygen in the ocean.
The oxygen deprivation caused an astounding 96 percent of ocean creatures to suffocate.
The cause of this extinction event had been long-debated, but this recent research indicates just how impactful our current climate change trajectory could be—the ocean has already lost 2 percent of its oxygen in the last 50 years.
Plastic Straws Make the News
States and companies alike take steps to reduce the use of plastic straws.
Curasub owner Adriaan Schrier and lead DROP scientist Carole Baldwin aboard the custom-built submersible.
Just like the layers of the atmosphere, scientists describe layers of the ocean based on the animals who live there and how much light is present.
This year, there was a new addition thanks to work from Dr.
Carole Baldwin, a research zoologist at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
Her team conceived of the rariphotic zone when they realized that the fish found there were not the same as those in the shallower mesophotic zone.
The newly recognized rariphotic zone ranges from 130 meters to at least 309 meters deep (427-1,014 feet).
It is too deep for corals with photosynthetic algae to grow, and it is also too deep to reach with the specialized SCUBA equipment used to explore mesophotic reefs.
Submersibles and remotely operated vehicles can explore the region, but they are expensive and generally used to scope out even deeper depths of the ocean.
As a result, most reef researchers rarely make it to the rariphotic zone.
Baldwin manages to visit it often with the help of a deep-sea submersible, the Curasub, through the Deep Reef Observation Project based at the National Museum of Natural History. No Calves for North Atlantic Right Whales
North Atlantic right whales are in peril, but changes to shipping routes and lobster trap design could help the large marine mammals make a comeback.
With just over 400 individuals remaining in the North Atlantic right whale population, this endangered species is on the brink.
Early in 2018 scientists announced that there had been no right whale calves sighted after the winter breeding season.
Changes to shipping lanes and speed limits over the past decade have helped reduce ship strikes, but entanglement in fishing gear has remained a problem—17 right whale deaths in 2017 were caused by entanglement.
But scientists still have hope.
There were only three recorded deaths in 2018, and the whales are now making their way back into North Atlantic waters.
We’ll keep our fingers crossed for a baby boom in 2019.
A Twitter Moment
1971 International Conference on the Biology of Whales.
Social media has its downsides, with distractions and in-fighting, but it can also produce some pretty magical moments.
We watched in real time in March of this year as the search unfolded for an unidentified young woman in a photo from the International Conference on the Biology of Whales held in 1971.
An illustrator in the midst of writing a book about the Marine Mammal Protection Act, legislation from 1972 that protects marine mammal species from harm and harassment, came across the image with one African American female attendee who was practically hidden and had no name listed in the caption.
Who was this pioneer in a field dominated by white men?
The illustrator took to Twitter for help and the search was on.
Unfolding over several days, leads came and went, and the woman was eventually identified as Sheila Minor (formerly Sheila Jones) who at the time of the photo was a biological technician at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
Even as scientists continue to make astounding discoveries in the watery depths of the world, some of our most important findings have been right here with us all along.