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Marine Environmental Issues That Need Attention

Ningthoujam Sandhyarani
Ever wondered about the astonishing events happening in the vast marine environment? Here are some current events in marine biology, which you will find interesting to learn about.
Oceans represent the highest biodiversity in the world. From the smallest ocean creature (the humble microbe) to the largest mammal (the blue whale) on Earth, life in the marine environment is simply unpredictable.
In recent times, rigorous studies have been done in the field of marine biology. It is estimated that 1 milligram of ocean water may contain 10 million viruses and 1 million bacteria.
In addition, oceans serve as the greatest resource for humans. While marine fish provide the greatest percentage of protein, about one-third of the world's fuel comes from oceans. Some of the current events in marine biology are highlighted in the upcoming paragraphs.

Marine Biology: Current Events

Ocean's Microbes and Earth's Future

In our school days, we have learned a lot about the tiny microbes. Most importantly, we know them as pathogens for many diseases. But, are you aware about abundance of microbes? Believe it or not, they contribute to about 90 percent of the biomass in oceans.
In fact, it is these minute organisms that play an important role in maintaining the oxygen and carbon dioxide balance in the Earth's atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas responsible for global warming, is absorbed by the ocean microbes. 
It is known that some ocean microbes absorb methane (another greenhouse gas) and help in combating global warming. Researches on ocean microbiology state that human activities have a profound effect on the population of microbes, which may be an important reason for climatic change.

Algal Sunscreens from the Sea

Among the many scientific achievements, making algal sunscreens is an important one. Varieties of planktons inhabit the surface of the ocean. Due to the depletion of ozone layer, the floating planktons are at risk of getting exposed to deleterious rays of the sun.
In due course of time, some of the species become extinct, whereas some adapt to the prevailing environment. It is obvious that these surviving planktons possess some unique compounds, which help in protecting them from the harmful sun's rays.
Keeping this basic fact in mind, marine biologists are working on the identification and separation of these natural sunscreens for use in the skin care industry. In comparison to commercial skin care products, algal sunscreens are less harmful as they are prepared from a natural, renewable source.

Unrusted Iron from the Ocean

Iron deficiency in the marine environment is a major issue for non-blooming of the plankton. Hence, in recent years, iron fertilization (natural introduction of iron) has been a concern for scientists worldwide.
Since iron is a rare nutrient in the ocean, many scientists are of the opinion that introduction of iron dust will favor the growth of plankton, ultimately helping in carbon absorption and reducing global warming.
According to some scientists, adding carbon in the ocean will disturb natural food chain of the ocean and cause algal bloom. In the middle of this issue, is a surprising news, about the discovery of unrust iron on the ocean floor.
Also, a team of researchers have found that iron trapped by organic compounds from hydrothermal vents (fissure in the Earth's surface) are carried to the seawater. It is this iron that floats up onto the surface. Thus, scientists have discovered a natural mechanism for iron fertilization.

Consequence of Fish Oil Extraction

The benefits of fish oil have been in the news for some time now. It is stated that fish oil contains a high percentage of omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fat for the body. With this finding, isolating oil from certain species of marine fish is being done on a large scale.
Ultimately, the result is decline in the fish population at a fast rate. Mass catching of fish for obtaining oil also poses risks for extinction of the overfished species.
As far as importance of fish in the diet is concerned, they not only make tasty dishes, but also serve as a rich source of protein.
Taking these into consideration, it is high time to find out whether fish oil is really good for health or not. If the result is not satisfactory, there is not point in using fish just for the sake of extracting oil. Rather, it is more practical to save fish and provide food security to the masses.

Human Pathogen and While Pox in Corals

The spreading of disease from pet birds and animals to humans is not new to us (e.g., bird flu and swine flu). But, it is surprising to know that pathogens that attack humans can affect the corals too.
Previously, the elkhorn coral was identified as an abundant species in the Caribbean sea. But, if you go through the organisms to be protected under the United States Endangered Species Act, 2006, you will come across this coral in the list.
And the major threat to declining elkhorn coral is the white pox disease, which is caused by the bacterium, Serratia marcescens.
In humans, this pathogen affects the urinary tract, respiratory system and open wounds. The prime cause for transmission of this human pathogen to marine corals is the disposal of untreated wastewater or sewage that makes its way to seawater. Thus, in order to save the elkhorn coral, stringent care should be taken while treating wastewater.

Coral in Human Bone Grafting

Corals are marine organisms having rich biodiversity. Hence, coral reefs are often referred to as tropical rainforests of the oceans.
Since the chemistry of corals is somewhat similar to human bone, it is used to replace bone grafts. It is shown that this method helps in easy and fast healing of the human bone with lesser side effects. The technique of using coral for repairing skeletal problems is mostly followed in Europe. For this type of procedure, porite coral is commonly used.
Various studies have revealed that coral material contains negligible amounts of protein, and hence, it shows no inflammatory response. Application of coral for reconstructive surgeries is gaining popularity in plastic surgery too.
Well! These are some of the path-breaking findings in marine science. Presently, researches are ongoing on various marine biology issues such as oil spills in marine water, ability of some marine species to change their sex, life in the extreme environment of the ocean and synthesis of renewable energy source from ocean water.
If the proposal of obtaining biofuel from seaweed is feasible, it will be a priceless contribution for solving energy crisis that we are facing at present.