Tag: ecosystem

Declining Penguin Populations Turn Heads Toward Coastal Currents

Magellanic penguins are one of the few species of penguins that live in warmer, non-polar waters. They breed along the coasts of Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands. In the winter, these penguins take to the sea and spend the colder months along the shallower continental shelf. Recent observations of river outflow have shown that oceanic winds and currents can mean good or bad winters for the penguins, but only the females.

Near Threatened

Ecologists and biologists have turned their attention toward these tiny penguins in recent years due to human threats to their breeding grounds. Although there are still millions of Magellanic penguins along the South American coastlines, oil spills pose a hazard to large breeding colonies, particularly along the shores of Argentina. Every year, 20,000 adults and 22,000 chicks succumb to oil spills.

Climate change has also caused a decline in the Magellanic penguin population. Warming oceans have displaced fish populations, driving them away from their historic ranges. During the breeding season, this means that hunting penguins have to swim up to 50 miles farther to find food while their mates sit starving on their nests.

A River Flows Through It

The Rio de la Plata meets the South Atlantic Ocean between Argentina and Uruguay, dumping nutrient-rich water and sediments into the surrounding sea. Wind patterns along the coast disperse the outflow. The microorganisms in the water attract fish. Low winds mean that the fish and their food supply stay relatively close to the mouth of the river, whereas stronger current carries them along the coast for miles, dispersing the fish.


Magellanic penguins feed on these fish during their winters at sea. When the winds are low and the food is concentrated, the penguins are healthier-looking in the springtime and more fit to have a productive mating season. If currents thin the fish populations, the penguins suffer, though scientists noted that only the female Magellanic penguins seemed to feel the effects.

Biological Differences

Like many species, Magellanic penguins exhibit sexual dimorphism, which is a visual difference between the two sexes. Male penguins of this species are larger than the females, and scientists believe that may play a key role in discovering why the males don’t seem as affected by changes in the currents. The larger male penguins are thought to have more stamina and a greater ability to hunt at depths that the females cannot reach. As a result, they have access to more food when the river outflow is dispersed than the female penguins do.

Studying the habits of these little birds has been a challenge because of where they spend their winters. Satellite technology and digital trackers are making it easier to scientists to understand what Magellanic penguins do when they’re away from land. Before biologists compared the satellite imagery of the Rio de la Plata with the penguins’ unusual health fluctuations, the reason was left to much tricker guesswork. As we continue to blend technology into all facets of science, we are better able to study the world around us and understand how we can help it as habitats change and the climate shifts.

For now, the population seems to be doing alright. That’s not the case for other wildlife in the seas, with populations decreasing by up to 50% over the past forty years.

Life Is Thriving In Earth’s Deep Sea Circle Of Hell

In one of the most hostile environments on planet Earth, life perseveres. Immense pressure, frigid temperatures, and geysers of incredibly hot fluid define this seemingly-inhospitable environment at the bottom of the world’s deepest ocean trench. How do researchers study such an ecosystem, and what could possibly survive in a biosphere like that? While getting there is far from easy, the abundance of life is truly amazing.

Flooring Facts And Figures

The Mariana Trench is the deepest ocean trench and the lowest point on the surface of the Earth, 7,000 feet lower than Mount Everest would reach if you turned it on its head. The bottom of the trench is 36,000 feet below sea level, where the last rays of light faded entirely from view some 23,000 feet above. The water down in the Challenger Deep lingers near freezing all year-round.

Google Maps

In the Mariana Trench, the water is a brisk 34 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pressure of all that water is enough to crush a human being in an instant. The only sources of warmth are hydrothermal vents, which spew superheated water and minerals as the ocean meets the magma seeping up from the mantle below. These vents can reach temperatures of 750 degrees Fahrenheit, but the water cannot boil because of the incredible pressure.

Strange Creatures Of The Deep

Anything living down in the depths of the Mariana Trench must be able to withstand the extremes. Millions of years of evolution have led to the development of many strange-looking creatures that dwell in the inky blackness of the depths below the abyss. Among those creatures are fish, like the frilled shark and the deep sea hatchetfish, which make up some of the deep ocean’s frighteningly toothy predators. The frilled shark has a pale, eel-like body with a flexible skeleton and two rows of widely-spaced, needle-like teeth. While it is creepy-looking, it seems relatively normal when compared to the hatchetfish, whose body is much taller than it is wide. The incredible thing about the hatchetfish is its ability to produce its own glow, called bioluminescence, to match the amount of light filtering down from above, so that if viewed from below, it remains unseen.


Most of the creatures dwelling in the depths of the trench, however, are invertebrates. Tubeworms most famously make their homes alongside the boiling hot hydrothermal vents, feeding off of the mineral-rich liquid they spew. Another type of deep-sea worm that makes its home in the Mariana Trench is the zombie worm, which feeds off of animal detritus, including bones, by excreting acid that breaks down the food into easily-absorbable nutrients.

It’s Not All Bad

Not everything that lives at the bottom of the ocean is terrifying. Sea cucumbers are goofy little blobs that live on the ocean floor and eat plankton and whatever leftovers they can sweep up from the sand. Sea stars also make their home in the dark waters, feeling along the ground for anything good to eat. The fleshy, skeleton-less bodies of these little critters have no problem surviving in the chilly, high-pressure depths.

Finally, the cutest creatures you’ll find in the Challenger Deep is also one of the smallest. Members of the fantastic group of living things called extremophiles, tardigrades love the boiling-hot waters near hydrothermal vents. These little organisms often referred to as water bears can survive just about anywhere, including the vacuum of space. They are as resilient as they are adorable, and they don’t mind the weather down there one bit.

Check out these other strange creatures that live at the bottom of the world’s deepest trench.

Sound The Alarm: 90% Of Table Salt Tests Positive For Microplastics

Your salt shaker may be hiding a dirty secret. Microplastics are lurking in nearly 100% of table salt found on grocery store shelves, dining tables, and in kitchens worldwide.

If you thought only marine life was suffering the brunt of human’s ill-fated love affair with plastic, think again. Thanks to microfibers from clothing, widespread use of disposable plastic items, and inadequate environmental regulations, plastic has entangled itself within the food web.

An Ancient Spice Sullied

In a lot of places, sea water is often left to evaporate to leave behind piles of salt. Sadly, because of the proliferation of plastics in the oceans, salt processed in Asian countries tends to have higher levels of microplastics.


Sea salt is valued for its strong flavor, multiple health benefits, and as a rich source of nutrients. Consumers should take caution when using sea salt, as it has more contamination from microplastics than lake salt and rock salt.

Plastics With Nowhere To Go

Both wealthy industrial nations and poorer countries have contributed to plastic pollution. Microplastics form from ingredients in cosmetics, apparel, and inexpensive mass-produced goods. Oceans are not the only places that are littered with tons of plastics, as coastlines, beaches, and natural waterways get bogged down with refuse.


According to sources, by 2015 the world managed to produce 7.8 billion tons of plastic. The mismanagement of plastic waste around the world has led to plastics polluting rivers and oceans. Humans still need to work on reducing the demand for plastics and adhere to responsible disposal methods to prevent entry to the global food chain.

Beyond The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not the only sore point where plastic pollution persists. The need for solutions to clean up the oceans and land where there are microplastics present is urgent.

When scientists discovered an enzyme that could potentially consume stubborn oil-based plastics in 2016,  it was a glimmer of hope for dealing with the plastic problem. Efforts have been stepped up to scour the world’s oceans for plastics, with the hope of reversing the damage inflicted on the planet’s fragile ecosystem.

Food Chain Disrupted

Plastics in the ocean are not only a threat to marine life, as microplastic-tinged sea salt has been observed for years. Austrian researchers recently studied a small pool of participants and discovered the presence of microplastics in samples of human stool. The study’s results are troubling, as the participants all came from different countries and followed their typical eating habits.


There are ten common microplastics that are regularly found in the water, air, table salt, and even bottled drinks. Polyethylene is typically used in plastic shopping bags and bottles. Polypropylene is used in rope and bottle caps.

Human health is at risk. Plastics can build up in the intestines over time, triggering inflammation and stressing the immune system. Animals have been studied for years for evidence of microplastics in the food chain, and now humans can be added to the list as being affected.

MORE: Even washing our clothes is putting massive amounts of plastic into the world’s water.