Category Archives: Marine Education

The Stars of our Programs

Sometimes, it’s the simple things in life that make the most impact.  Take sea stars for example –  these unassuming members of the marine world are more than just pretty decorations on the reef.

These topsy turvy creatures with their mouth underneath and their bottom up top, play a major role in keeping our oceans healthy.

Sea stars are the underwater clean-up crew.  They eat their way through debris discarded by other animals feeding frenzies, as well as targeting organisms that need to be kept in check.  The services they provide in the marine eco system has earnt them the title of keystone species.

And they’re not afraid to take on a big challenge.  These close relatives of sea urchins and sand dollars can consume creatures much larger than their small mouths would suggest, thanks to a stomach-turning technique they’ve perfected.

They can expel one of their two bellies outside their body to wrap around prey – this external digestion is a slow process, taking them up to 10 hours to finish their meal.

But this is only one of the tricks up their five more sleeves….. sea stars can regenerate entire bodies from just one severed limb.  This is because most of their vital organs are in the arms, including eye spots, which help them to sense light from dark as they move about in the ocean.

Not bad for an animal that has neither a heart nor a brain.  Instead, these echinoderms have a basic water vascular system which allows them to pump the surrounding sea through their bodies.  Even their tiny, suction-cupped feet, which they use to move about, are fed from the filtered water they draw in.

There are close to 2,000 species of sea stars in our oceans using these clever adaptations.  These sloths of the sea will never win any medals for speed but many can live up to 35 years – a rarity amongst marine animals of this size, which speaks volumes about their ability to beat the odds.

While, some are protected by a spikey, calcified skin, most just rely on their bright colours to deceive predators into believing they’re toxic to touch.

Ocean Life Education has long been a fan of sea stars – they are an integral part of our team of animal ambassadors that accompany us to all our presentations.

If you would like to gently touch and learn more about these amazing sea creatures and many others like them, contact us at Ocean Life Education on info@oceanlifeeducation.com.au Discover for yourself why this most unassuming of marine animals truly has star qualities.

The High Price of Peace of Mind

We Aussies love our beaches – in the warmer months the coastline has a magnetic pull, drawing us to the sand, sea and surf in our thousands.

But while the thought of a refreshing ocean dip might be appealing, the concept of potentially coming face to face with one of our most feared predators has prompted officials to take drastic action.

Shark nets have been deployed off the shoreline of the east coast for more than 80 years.  But they offer a false sense of security.  Stretching less than 200 metres long and extending down only 6 metres, these mesh barriers are at best a deterrent and certainly don’t make beaches attack proof.

Sharks can get under, over or around them, and as it turns out, more are caught on the shore side of the net when they’re heading back out to sea, than when they’re swimming towards shore.

The holes in the mesh are around 50 centimetres across – large enough to let small animals pass through, but the perfect size for trapping bigger species.

Turtles, dolphins and rays are common victims of the nets – becoming entangled and drowning or starving to death.  A major concern is the ensnaring of humpback whales on their journey back to Antarctica after their annual breeding season in the tropics.

Calves in particular are easy prey – in just over a decade 55 have been caught in the shark nets, including one off Noosa in late September this year.  Another swam down to Sydney with the remnants of a Queensland net still wrapped around its mouth.

But the toll on the animals targeted by these barriers is far greater. In 2017 alone, more than 500 sharks were caught in the nets off Queensland – 377 died, more than 100 others had to be euthanised – only 20 were released.

Amongst the victims were grey nurse sharks which are classified as critically endangered and pose no real threat to us.  The vast majority of species share the sea quite peacefully with people – only a handful of sharks are responsible for fatal attacks on humans.

Just to put it all into perspective, on average one person a year is killed by a shark in Australia, as opposed to 5 dying from falling out of bed, 10 struck down by lightning or perhaps the most sobering, more than 1,100 taken on our roads.

Shark attacks are extremely rare and there is no scientific evidence to prove that nets protect humans.  What we do know is the attempt to keep us safe is killing marine life indiscriminately.

Removing so many animals, including apex predators, will have an impact on  local marine ecosystems – but we won’t be able to calculate that cost until far too late.

Marine biologist, Holly Richmond, feels so passionately about the need to remove all nets, she’s created a video:  www.thesharknetfilm.com

Ocean Life Education is passionate about protecting all marine animals and focusing on the important role sharks play in our oceans.  For more information about our programs including our Shark Discovery presentation visit: https://www.oceanlifeeducation.com.au/programs/

 

Celebrating SeaWeek

There is one time of the year we look forward to more than any other at Ocean Life Education – when collectively as a nation, we take the opportunity to pay homage to the sea.

SeaWeek is Australia’s major public awareness campaign centred around our oceans – a chance to turn our attention on what the water does for us and what we in turn can do for it.

This year’s theme was ‘The Ocean made Earth Habitable’, focusing on how the majority of oxygen in our atmosphere has been produced by microscopic sea creatures during photosynthesis.  Thanks to their contribution over thousands of years, life on land was able to develop.

And the impact is still ongoing today – with more than 70 percent of the planet covered in water, it plays a major role in many aspects of our daily lives.

Australia has one of the largest ocean territories in the world – it drives our climate and weather and provides valuable resources. Marine animals and plants are found in medicines that are used to fight cancer, arthritis and heart disease.

On average, we each consume around 25 kilograms of seafood every year, harvesting more than 150, 000 tonnes of fish annually.

Eighty-five percent of Australians live within 50 kilometres of our vast shoreline – drawn to the water not only for food but fun as well. We have 10,000 beaches spread around our 50,000 kilometres of coast and almost 3 million of us own a boat allowing us to explore beyond the shallows.

But as we become more globally aware of climate change and the impact our modern lifestyle is having on the oceans, it’s time for us to breathe new life into the part of our planet that made all of this possible in the first place.

Ocean Life Education is dedicated to promoting the preservation of our marine environment.  Our Human Impact Program takes a close look at the effect we have on the world’s waterways and, most importantly, how we can make a change for the better to sustain our seas for generations to come.

To find out more and to become part of the solution, visit https://www.oceanlifeeducation.com.au/programs/

Shoreline Show Stoppers

Every winter, anyone along the East Coast of Australia gets a front row seat for one of nature’s most spectacular shows.

The stars are humpback whales – massive marine mammals that like to steal the limelight.  These traveller performers drop by on their 25,000 kilometre round trip between Antarctica and their breeding grounds in the tropics.

These acrobatic animals are definite crowd pleasers – playing to an appreciative audience….

Just the sight of a spout is enough to cause a commotion…and little wonder.  After holding their breath for twenty minutes, humpbacks can exhale several metres into the air…..

But it’s really just the warm up – the opening act can be pectoral fin slaps…. When their five metre long appendages slam onto the ocean surface – a wakeup call for anyone close by.

Tail slaps are another great way to grab attention. One is never enough.  It’s an opportunity to show off their personal fluke pattern – the best way to identify a humpback….

If they sense they’re losing their audience, the whales can opt for a spy hop – raising their head out of the water to assess the world around them….

But the absolute shop stopper is the full body breach – when up to 30 tonnes of mammal is launched into the air and slams back down.  The impact is phenomenal – seen and heard from kilometres away.

There’s lots of different theories as to why whales perform this manoeuvre – some feel it’s a way to communicate with other humpbacks close by; others believe it’s like a giant stretch after a long rest – a signal they’re about to get active again.

Either way its unforgettable – and can only be topped if there’s an understudy in tow.  Young calves accompany their mothers on the trip back south, eager to try out their performance skills as well.

At just five metres long, they’re only a fraction of their Mum’s size but still capable of making their presence felt.  Drinking 400 litres of milk a day, these youngsters grow quickly and by this time next year will be ready to go solo.

In a final bow to the crowd, the whales lift their tails and disappear from stage – diving deep and leaving the audience wanting more, with no indication where and when their next performance will be.

Even if you miss the show, you can learn more about these magnificent animals in one of Ocean Life Education’s Marine Mammal presentations.  Click here for more details.