Tag Archives: marine conservation

Word for Wednesday: Z is for zooxanthellae.

This week, for my final Word for Wednesday of the series, I could justifiably have gone for ‘zero’, ‘zip’, or ‘zilch’.  That – very frustratingly – was the state of my internet connection on Wednesday, hence the Thursday publication!  Sometimes there is just no way of working to ideals in this country, and you just have to growl in irritation, breathe deeply for a while, give a resigned shrug, then wait!

Anyway, getting back to my actual chosen word!  I thought that, as the alphabet started, way back in July, with ‘albescent‘, it would round things out nicely to close with zooxanthellae.  And if you’ve been with me on my blogging journey for a while now, you will know that I am passionate about our beautiful, fragile seas and oceans.


Zooxanthellae (noun).

(plural of zooxanthella).

  • any of various symbiotic dinoflagellates that live within the cells of other organisms (as reef-building coral polyps)
  • any of various symbiotic yellow-green or yellow–brown algae in the cytoplasm of certain radiolarians and marine invertebrates.
  • Any of various yellow-brown photosynthetic dinoflagellates that live symbiotically within the cells of other organisms, especially certain corals and other marine invertebrates.

Word derivation: modern Latinzoo ‘of animals’ + Greek xanthos ‘yellow’ + the diminutive suffix -ella.

First Known Use: circa 1891.



Beautiful healthy coral, as far as the eye could see. Plus two curious and friendly Batfish, keeping me company on my dive!


Eugene H. Kaplan’s book, Sensuous Seas: Tales of a Marine Biologist is an absolutely fascinating read.  There really is a whole world of wonder going on just beneath those waves.  I also love that Kaplan is an academic and scientist who writes to actually be read and understood by normal people – fantastic!! It’s a book I go back to time and time again.

“Sadly, the astonishing interaction between coral and zooxanthellae is being reversed by modern man.  Global warming does exist.  Proof lies in the sensitive nature of coral reefs.  Having evolved in the constant temperatures of the open sea, corals are unable to stand even brief exposure to fluctuating temperatures. Present-day oceans average 2°C above past normal temperature.  Corals, needing constancy, do not adapt.  In their death throws, they expel their zooxanthellae.  This sensitivity makes corals the canaries in the coal mines.  They warn us of the impending doom of many of the earth’s less flexible organisms. The life sustaining zooxanthellae are being expelled from corals in all the world’s oceans.  The corals, bereft of their internal providers, die.  The condition is called bleaching.  In all the world’s oceans the green and gold colour of many coral reefs is gone, leaving a slimy white coating of dying polyps.”

(Eugene H. Kaplan, Sensuous Seas: Tales of a Marine Biologist).

SO that’s the end of the line.  It’s been such a fun ride from A to Z.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these posts as much as I have enjoyed writing them.  I don’t think I fancy just looping round and starting at A all over again though.  But where to next?  Something new and exciting next week!


Word for Wednesday: S is for sustainable.

I love reading food magazines, and I have been looking for inspiration recently for the festive season.  But reading different magazines, I have been shocked at some of the glaring missed opportunities around encouraging sustainability and consumer awareness about food choices, particularly fish and seafood.

Charles Clover, author of The End of the Line:  how overfishing is changing the world and what we eat commented on the role of celebrity chefs that they are:

“the leaders in the field of food, and we are the led. Why should the leaders of chemical businesses be held responsible for polluting the marine environment with a few grams of effluent, which is sublethal to marine species, while celebrity chefs are turning out endangered fish at several dozen tables a night without enduring a syllable of criticism?”.

It’s an interesting comment for me. I agree that we are indeed the led in this respect, but I’m not sure that restaurant menus are the only or even the most influential part of celebrity chef status.  In terms of numbers alone, I wouldn’t mind betting that celebrity chef led restaurant menus have a smaller circle of influence than their recipe books and recipes used by magazines and newspapers.  And I also feel that Clover comes unfairly close to trying to saddle celebrity chefs with a blame and responsibility that we should all share.

Having said that, I was stunned and disappointed to see a Rick Stein recipe using swordfish, taken from one of his recipe books, in the Christmas issue of Essentials magazine.  Maybe Rick Stein and his restaurants would only ever use sustainable fish and seafood.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.  But for the rest of us, whilst it is possible to buy ‘sustainable’ swordfish, there is an awful lot of unsustainable swordfish packaged up for supermarkets and fishmongers too.  How many people really think about the implications of what they are putting on their plates?


Sustainable (adj).

  • able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed
  • involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources
  • able to last or continue for a long time
  • capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or  causing severe ecological damage.

Derivation: Sustain + able, from Middle English suste (inen, coming from Anglo-French sustenir (Old French and Latin sustinēre to uphold).  First known use: 1727.


Swordfish may be found all over the world, but that is not to say that global stocks are healthy.  In some locations numbers are in severe decline due to overfishing.  Worldwide, the vast majority of swordfish commercial fishing is done using long lines.  It is an unbelievably unsustainable, un-environmentally sensitive fishing technique.  Literally a really, really long length of fishing line, with thousands of hooks on it.  Lines can be as ‘small’ as a couple of kilometres long,  right up to 100 kilometres  (that is not a typo – 100 kilometres!), with secondary hooked lines branching off the main line.

The long lining fishing industry is ripping the swordfish out of the oceans in huge numbers.  It might make you think that if those numbers are being caught then there must be plenty to go around.  But we are literally fishing an ever dwindling pool of supply.  The huge scale, highly efficient fishing techniques today mean that swordfish populations are being hit far faster than they can reproduce in order to maintain a sustainable population.

Swordfish happen to have particularly slow reproduction and maturation rates.  But they are certainly not the only fish to be affected by the imbalance between our plundering of the oceans, and the breathing space we are allowing fish stocks, in order to enable them to replenish and recover.


Plenty more fish in the sea?


Aside from the fact that a fishing line extending tens of kilometres can take huge numbers of fish out of the water, indiscriminate of maturity and size, it also takes horrifying amounts of by-catch.  By-catch is anything other than the unintended fish species.  It includes other (potentially less sustainable) species of fish, as well as sea turtles, sharks, whales, dolphins, seals and sea birds. And much of that wasted sea life is hauled into the boat, unhooked and then dumped overboard, dead or dying.

I think too many food industry leaders, chefs, consumers and foodies have gone on for far too long turning a blind eye to the scale of the environmental havoc we are wreaking for the fish on our plates.  It doesn’t help either that, for many people, what is going on under the waves is literally ‘out of sight, out of mind’.  So whilst I don’t think the blame rests with them alone, I do think it is at best deeply unhelpful, when celebrity chefs, food writers and other influential people in the food industry don’t do their utmost to dispel misinformation and encourage a more sensitive and sustainable approach to food consumption.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a British organisation which is trying to set new standards for a global approach to sustainable fishing practices.  It says:

“Our vision is for the world’s oceans to be teeming with life – today, tomorrow, and for generations to come.

By choosing MSC labelled seafood, you reward fisheries that are committed to sustainable fishing practices.”

Organisations like MSC and marine conservation charities and organisations such as Bite-Back, Marine Conservation Society UK, Sea Shepherd, Ocean Elders (to name just a tiny number of the many globally established marine focused charitable organisations) do incredible work influencing global policy and legislation, raising funding and awareness to support the cause.  But they can struggle to reach those who aren’t already tuned in to the marine conservation and protection agenda.  Which is where celebrity endorsement and support comes in.

I salute celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Richard Branson, Alan Davies, Sylvia Earle and Katy Melua, amongst many others, for their vocal support of ocean conservation and protection.  And influential chefs and food industry experts like Hugh Fernley Whittingstall, Gordon Ramsay, and Thomasina Miers are adding their considerable support to the cause.  We are a hugely media-driven society, and when celebrities are showing up at events, tweeting their support, and committing their ‘brand’ to a cause, that is when the rest of the world starts to sit up and notice.  It makes people rethink their own approach.

Thomasina Miers, in an interview for the November edition of BBC GoodFood magazine, talked about the importance of sustainability for her.  It was something that she became passionate about during her time at Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland:

“At Ballymaloe, they think about the whole cycle of food – where it comes from, how it’s grown, the effect on the planet.  It made me think about food in a completely new way.  Recently we won an award at Wahaca [her Mexican food chain] from the Marine Stewardship Council for the best use of MSC fish on a menu. It was lovely recognition of the importance we attach to it.”

It is so heartening to see chefs really walking the walk.  When chefs are creating new and interesting menus for their restaurants and cookery books, talking about their passion for sustainability, it inspires a generation of food lovers to follow suit.

I’m not saying that people should stop eating fish.  We all make our choices, based on a complex combination of factors including health, ethics, lifestyle, food preferences, availability and affordability.  But I think we all owe it to ourselves, our oceans and our future generations to do the very best we can to make our choices as sustainable as possible. Celebrity chefs could and should give us the push we need, but we can all make more of an effort to take these steps on our own two feet.

Happy World Oceans Day!

Today is the 22nd World Oceans Day.  An annual event, celebrating the world’s oceans.  Everything they – and the marine life and landscapes they contain – bring to our life.

And they're off! Green turtle hatchlings, heading off into the sunset on Lankayan, Malaysia.

And they’re off! Green turtle hatchlings, heading off into the sunset on Lankayan, Malaysia.

As a child I literally could not walk along a beach without ending up waist-high in water.  I just couldn’t resist the allure of the waves.  It would start with my shoes and socks coming off.  Then five minutes later I’d roll my trousers up.  Then the trouser legs would be jammed up as high up my thighs as they’d go and I’d wade in a little deeper.  And then in the end I’d just accept the inevitability of soaking wet clothes and go for it. Happy memories.

These days I retain that childlike thrill when I’m walking along a beach or splashing by the shore.  I still can’t help but take my shoes and get my feet wet.  But, as a scuba diver, I also have a deeper love and respect for what lies beneath the waves.  I’ve seen some spectacular underwater sights, sat watching sunsets on some magnificent beaches, been in the company of some inspirational marine conservation champions, and shared some incredible moments with special people whilst under or out on the waters.  I hope for many more magical memories for the future.


Research vessel for the Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project, Malapascua, Philippines…some of the most interesting and rewarding weeks of my life spent with the team on this scientific study.

I feel so passionately about our oceans.  They are a gift and should be cherished as such.  But as a global population, we take so much from our oceans, put such a burden on them, and give so little back in return.  The World Oceans Day website gives some great suggestions for easy ways to get involved in preservation and protection of our oceans, as well as fun ways to share your love of the oceans with others.

Two of my particular favourites are their ‘wear blue, tell two’ concept and the beach cleanup.

The beach clean-up idea is pretty self-explanatory.  Visit your favourite beach, get your friends and family or local community involved, and do as much as you can to collect and remove the rubbish you find.  But this doesn’t have to be a big all-or-nothing once a year thing.  Make sure that every time you go down to the beach you take away your own rubbish.  And grabbing a few other bits of rubbish you pass on your way to the nearest bin or recycling point is easy. Not only will it improve the appearance of the beach and prevent marine debris, it will make you feel good and at the same time will encourage others to do the same.

‘Wear blue, tell two’ involves you wearing an item of blue clothing, asking people if they know why and then sharing two facts with them about the ocean, or two ways that they can play their part in ocean conservation and protection.  Then ask them to take their turn in ‘wear blue, tell two’.

So here is my little shark warrior all dressed up in blue, and I am assuming that – because you are attentive and nice like that – you would like to ask her why if you could!  So I’ll answer on her behalf!  And because I’m crazy in love with our marine world, I’m going to be generous and give two facts about the ocean AND two ways you can play your part!


Baby shark warrior!

Fact 1: Fish like to stay healthy and look their best, and there are certain species of fish – collectively known as cleaner fish – which help others in their preening.  And the cleaner fish benefit by eating the parasites, dead and diseased tissue that they remove from the client fish.  Cleaner fish set themselves up at a ‘cleaning station’, offering services to bigger fish which under normal circumstances would happily consider such little fish a tasty morsel.  There is a gentleman’s agreement between the cleaner and the client, which is indicated by the client positioning themselves in a certain way, changing colour, or moving in a specific way which indicates that they are there to be cleaned rather than to eat! I am utterly transfixed watching cleaning stations in actions when I spot one when I’m on a dive.  They are amazing examples of fish behaviour.

If you found this interesting then I can highly recommend Sensuous Seas: Tales of a Marine Biologist by E.H Kaplan, which is a fascinating and easy read, even for a non-scientist like me!


Fact 2: In explaining the saltiness of the oceans, there is a myth that they were made salty all at once.  In fact, ocean salts built up over thousands of years to reach today’s levels.  Today, salinity levels in our seas and oceans are relatively stable. And we have learnt how to use that salty water to our advantage. There are more than 4,000 factories around the world removing the salt and changing it into fresh water.  These factories are mostly in the Middle East and other regions where rain and other fresh water sources are scarce.

This fact is taken from Wonders of the Sea by Kendall Haven.  Another fantastic and very engaging book, including some very interesting myths and legends from around the world.


To do your bit to make a difference you can….

  1. Reduce plastic.  Try to use less plastic bags and packaging in general. Take reuseable canvas shopping bags with you when you go food shopping; don’t bag each individual item in a plastic bag.  Recycle.
  2. Eat sustainably.  Think about how sustainable the fish in the supermarket, fish monger or restaurant is, before you buy it.  Avoid fish or seafood which you know is overfished, or which is not sustainably fished.  It can be pretty confusing at times though can’t it?!  The Marine Conservation Society has a great online resource – http://www.fishonline.org/ – to help you make sense of the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to making sustainable fish buying choices.

I hope you liked the suggestions, and might think about using them.  Perhaps you already do?  Or maybe there are other ways you try to make a difference, in which case I would love to hear them.

I totally understand that it sometimes feels that global conservation efforts and wildlife initiatives can seem overwhelming.  Even a tad futile in the face of the huge difficulties to be overcome.  I know that’s how my husband and I felt when we first moved over from the UK to South East Asia and realised the scale of the shark-fin sales market here.  But all we can all do is do our bit and keep trying.

Just during the three years we have been here the shift in international attitudes about shark finning has been incredible.  And the market for shark fin is noticeably in decline in some areas now, which is a massive achievement.  All that change comes from individuals banging the drum long enough and loud enough to gather others up with them, and start to influence change at a local, national and international level.  People power is an amazing thing when we choose to use it for good.

One of many celebrity-endorsed anti shark fin campaign posters seen on the streets of Singapore

One of many celebrity-endorsed anti shark fin campaign posters seen on the streets of Singapore

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Mother Theresa (1910-1997)