To me, the ocean has always been a scary place, mostly because I am very aware that 95 percent of it remains unexplored and 80 percent of the ocean floor has not been mapped. This is pretty shocking considering that the ocean makes up 70 percent of the earth’s surface and scientists estimate we still only know about a tenth of the marine life on Earth — which, in my mind, leaves a lot of room for sea monsters and giant squids to be lurking about. So I’m happy to say that one sea creature a marine biologist recently discovered wasn’t scary at all, but quite fascinating!

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The Discovery

Marine biologist David Gruber was in the Solomon Islands on a TBA21 Academy expedition, when he and Markus Raymann, director of their group, discovered the biofluorescent turtle, the Hawksbill. They were taking pictures of coral they already knew were biofluorescent when 40 minutes into the dive a bright red and green ‘space ship’ came underneath his camera:

Scientists have only really tuned into biofluorescence in the last ten years, and as soon as we started tuning into it we started to find it everywhere. First it was in corals and jellyfish, then it was in fish, and there it was, this UFO. 

Alexander Gaos, director of the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative, said that “Biofluorescence is usually used for finding and attracting prey or defense or some kind of communication,” but believes in this case it could be used as camouflage, since during the day it makes creatures difficult to spot in their rocky reef habitat.

This is the first reptile scientists have discovered exhibiting biofluorescence (the ability to reflect the blue light hitting a surface and re-emit it as a different colour). Studying and learning more about this turtle may prove difficult, however, because their population numbers have declined by 90 percent in recent decades, marking them critically endangered.

“What’s even more sad, I think about this, is that these turtles have such a story to history and now they’re critically endangered. There’s some places where there is just a few thousand breeding females remaining.” 

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The Sad Truth

A study was led by the University of California-Berkeley, Stanford, and Princeton published last week in the journal Science Advance claims that the Earth has entered its sixth mass extinction phase, emphasizing that our time to avoid serious consequences is rapidly running out.(source) The last time something this grand happened was 65 million years ago, where it is believed a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs. Since 1900, more than 400 vertebrates — animals with no backbone — have disappeared. About 41% of all amphibians and 25% of mammals are currently threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and at least 50 animals move closer to extinction every year.

You can read more about this here

On The Bright Side…

Because the ocean’s depths are still pretty much uncharted territory, scientists are discovering new species every day, according to The World Register of Marine Species. Their aim is to become an inventory of all known ocean life, and have so far added 228,000 species to their list. Over the past year and a half, scientists have discovered 1,451 new species in our oceans alone. “It is humbling to realise that humankind has encountered and described only a fraction of our oceanic kin, perhaps as little as 11 per cent. The main gap at the moment is because of the under-exploration of the oceans. There are many, many places we have never been,” says, Dr Jan Mees, of the Flanders Marine Institute in Belgium and co-chairman of the marine register programme.

But still, he adds, “Sadly, we fear, many species will almost certainly disappear due to changing maritime conditions – especially warming, pollution and acidification – before we’ve had a chance to meet.” (source)

Check out the amazing discovery below!

Sources

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/exploration.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2990729/From-frilled-shark-frogfish-finding-four-new-sea-creatures-day-Scientists-uncover-1-451-new-species-ocean-past-year-alone.html#ixzz3yZNWdJRA

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/best-view-ever-of-hidden-seafloor-revealed-in-new-images-slide-show/
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/150928-sea-turtles-hawksbill-glowing-biofluorescence-coral-reef-ocean-animals-science150928-sea-turtles-hawksbill-glowing-biofluorescence-coral-reef-ocean-animals-science/

https://www.oceanfdn.org/projects/host-project/eastern-pacific-hawksbill-initiative-icapo

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/hawksbill-turtle/

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-33209548