Focus Session: Hot Topics in Marine Science [updated]

This post was updated 1.23.2012

There will be three presentations within the Hot Topics in Marine Science session –

1. Plastic Marine Debris: A novel and alien marine ecosystem?
Plastic is now the most common form of debris in the ocean and the accumulation of plastic in marine systems is a topic of great public concern and increasing scientific interest. Student research projects on SEA Education Association tall ships have contributed to long term ecological research in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and have generated the best
plastic marine debris data set in the world. Plastic as a relatively new human-generated contaminant represents a novel marine ecosystem, the ‘Plastisphere’ that harbors a diverse attached microbial community. The Plastisphere is distinct from the surrounding waters and includes potential pathogens.

Speaker:  Erik Zettler, Ph.D.,  Assoc. Dean for Institutional Relations and Research, Sea Education Association

Dr. Erik Zettler


Erik Zettler joined the Sea Education Association (SEA) in 1994. As Associate Dean of Institutional Relations and Research, Dr. Zettler works with faculty and administrators at other academic institutions to describe the unique off-campus study opportunities in marine studies that SEA courses provide to students from all academic disciplines. In addition, he coordinates and facilitates research collaborations with students, faculty, and scholars interested in data, samples, or ship time on SEA voyages, and he is responsible for archiving SEA’s oceanographic data.
Erik has been a member of the Woods Hole scientific community for many years, having worked as a Research Associate in the Biology Dept. at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution before joining SEA. He has participated on over 50 research cruises on SEA and UNOLS vessels and has done terrestrial field work in Antarctica, Bermuda, Canada, Costa Rica, Spain, and USA. Whenever possible, he teaches in the field including on board the SEA vessels.

2. Changes to Ocean Chemistry Will Adversely Affect Many Marine Organisms.
Ocean chemistry is changing owing to the increasing amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere.  The changes are potentially damaging to marine organisms such as corals, shell fish and tiny plankton pteropods (sea butterflies) that make their houses out of calcium carbonate.

Pteropods are believed to play a key role in ocean food webs, although their global distribution is not as well known as for corals and shellfish.  Samples collected by ships of opportunity could help ocean scientists better understand the pteropod distributions.

Speaker: Jim Yoder, Vice President for Academic Programs and Dean at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)

Before moving to WHOI in 2005, Jim held research, teaching and administrative positions at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and the University of Rhode Island.  He also spent time as a program manager at NASA Headquarters and as the Director of NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences.

3. [updated] Ocean Water Striders, the little known world of Halobates

 Halobates spp. are the only insects adapted to life on the open ocean.  Of the 46 known Halobates species, only five are completely oceanic. Very little is know about these wingless insects, since few scientific voyages collect them.  Some of the things we do know is that their
distributions are world wide, they appear to have many unique adaptations to life on the open ocean, and they are often found in the stomachs of seabirds.  Recent collections in the Eastern Tropical Pacific are beginning to shed some light on how seasons might affect their distribution, but there are many as yet unanswered questions.

Speaker: Mary Engels, Science Coordinator for Sea Education Association (SEA)

Mary Engels’  background is in both biology and geology and she has been working and sailing as a scientist for the past eight years with the Sea Education Association.  She has, in her spare time, spent lots of time with a dissecting microscope trying to tease out a few of the mysteries surrounding Halobates.


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