I know that you will enjoy this article on Covert Clones Battling Climate Change by Erika Delemarre our newest Blue Ocean contributor. We will be publishing a second article by Erika next week on how Kelp Forests can help us fight climate change. Welcome Erika and great work. —
Deep in the world’s oceans, countless jet-propelled clones are fighting a silent battle against climate change. They autonomously reproduce and rapidly build worldwide populations which lay concealed just beneath the waves. While it may sound like science fiction, rest assured it is simply science. Meet this week’s Blue Ocean Curious Creature: the salp.
Photo Caption: A spiraled chain of salp clones, known as aggregates, floating in the open ocean – Kevin Lee.
What is a salp?
Salps are gelatinous marine animals that resemble jellyfish but are more closely related to vertebrates such as fish, and you guessed it, humans! They have transparent, barrel-shaped bodies that can range in size from a small coin up to 10 centimeters in length. These animals lead complex lives, alternating between sexual and asexual reproduction with each successive generation. Salps in the asexual generations can create up to 200 clones known as aggregates and the resulting clones will sexually reproduce both as a female in the early stages of its life and as a male at the end. These peculiar adaptations allow salps to reproduce quickly and en masse, especially when there is ample food present.
These planktonic animals float freely in the ocean and are greatly influenced by currents, but they also utilize jet propulsion to move, and more importantly, to feed. As they siphon water in through their mouths, they filter out their favorite food, phytoplankton – or algae – before pushing the water out the opposite end of their bodies. (photo – a solitary asexual salp producing a chain of aggregates. © Larry Madin)
More than just a delicious salp snack, algae absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the ocean during photosynthesis. Like hordes of tiny vacuum cleaners, salps suck up and digest the algae and its carbon. The salps rapidly reproduce to take advantage of the abundant food source provided by algae blooms before swiftly dying off. Their carbon-rich poop and dead bodies are heavier than that of other plankton, so they quickly sink to the sea floor and if not eaten by other animals, will settle into the ocean sediments. The result? Natural carbon sequestration.
Why should I care about salps?
As the worldwide human population continues to grow, more fossil fuels are burned, resulting in an increased amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.
The ocean partially absorbs this culprit of climate change, but in turn becomes more acidic. This has negative repercussions on the marine ecosystem and consequently the international fisheries many people rely on for their food and livelihood. When salps consume carbon-laden algae, they directly impact ocean acidity and help to naturally mitigate the global issue of climate change.
How do we protect salps?
To ensure that salps continue to beneficially impact climate change, we must provide them with an unpolluted marine habitat. The United States Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for monitoring and enforcing laws that regulate the flow of waste water into American waterways and coastal areas, but the organization is currently drafting a new rule that will redefine which waters will be protected by the Clean Water Act.
Take Action Today
Americans are encouraged to review the proposed EPA legislation and submit public comment before the August 28, 2017 deadline to help protect salps, marine life, productive fisheries, and human health as a whole.
By Erika F. Delemarre a Blue Ocean Network contributor
Masters of Advanced Studies Candidate, Marine Biodiversity and Conservation
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego
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