The world's oceans and coastal ecosystems can store remarkable amounts of carbon dioxide. But if they're damaged, they can also release massive amounts of emissions back into the atmosphere.
The report was the first of its kind to quantify blue carbon -- carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere from ocean ecosystems -- across the 50 UNESCO Marine World Heritage sites. The report found six marine World Heritage Sites in Australia hold 40 percent of the estimated five billion tons of carbon dioxide stored in mangrove, seagrass and tidal marsh ecosystems within these sites, Edith Cowan University wrote in a statement.
"We know Australia contains some of the world's largest stores of blue carbon due to the enormous size and diversity of our marine ecosystems," the report author and ECU research fellow Dr. Oscar Serrano said, according to ECU. Included in these six marine World Heritage sites are Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo Coast and Shark Bay World Heritage areas, which together contain a majority of Australia's blue carbon habitats. "However, here in Australia and around the world, these ecosystems are under threat from human development and climate change," Serrano added.
These threats include pollution, like plastic litter, and climate change, UNESCO reported. This is an increasing problem not just in Australia, but among marine World Heritage sites globally, including ecosystems like the Sundarbans mangroves in India and Bangladesh, Everglades National Park in the U.S., the Wadden Sea in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, UNESCO noted.
Although blue carbon ecosystems represent less than one percent of the global ocean area, they store about half of the carbon dioxide via the world's oceans, absorbing carbon 30 times faster than rainforests, ECU wrote in a statement. But if these blue carbon ecosystems are not conserved, they could increase global carbon emissions.
"While they're healthy, blue carbon ecosystems are excellent stores of carbon dioxide, but if they are damaged, they can release huge amounts of carbon dioxide stored over millennia back into the atmosphere," Serrano added, according to ECU.
In 2011, for example, nine million tons of stored carbon dioxide were released following a marine heatwave that killed about one-third of the area's seagrass in the Shark Bay, The Guardian reported.
To avoid similar events, the report's authors call for conservation efforts like blue carbon strategies, where countries could earn carbon credits for restoring damaged ecosystems that store carbon, UNESCO reported.
"By quantifying the carbon value of these sites and recommending specific blue carbon strategies to conserve them, UNESCO's research findings point the way for countries, regions, and local communities seeking to conserve these areas and pursue blue carbon strategies," UNESCO wrote in a press release. This could mean including assets, like investing in the restoration and conservation of blue carbon ecosystems, into Nationally Determined Contributions, each country's pledged actions in the Paris agreement.
Currently, the Australian government is leading by example, developing a system to create carbon credits for restoration projects on increasing blue carbon stocks in marine ecosystems, The Guardian reported.
"There are significant opportunities for both the Great Barrier Reef and Shark Bay to be protected and restored to ensure they survive and thrive in the future," Serrano added, according to ECU.
In order to create ocean floor images, scientists typically need to use air guns that shoot sound beneath the waves. The sound waves travel through the crust and bounce back to instruments on the seafloor, Scientific American explained. This provides important information about the workings of earthquakes and the ocean's ability to store carbon, but the loud noise can interfere with marine mammal communications.
Now, it looks like scientists have found a new method thanks to marine mammals themselves.
"It shows these animal vocalizations are useful not just for understanding the animals, but also understanding their environment," John Nabelek, study co-author and Oregon State University College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences professor, said in a university press release.
Fin whales can grow to be 60 tons and 80 feet long, according to The New York Times. Their songs are proportionate to their size, reaching up to 189 decibels. They can also be heard from 600 miles away, Scientific American reported.
"They're nearly as loud as a big container ship," William Wilcock, a marine geophysicist at the University of Washington and not part of the study, told The New York Times.
The study found that those sound blasts can help scientists create images of the Earth's subsurface 1.6 miles below the seafloor, Scientific American reported.
Seismologist Václav Kuna, an Oregon State doctoral student at the time, made this accidental discovery, according to the press release. While listening to seismometer recordings, Kuna kept hearing one-second chirps that would repeat every 30 seconds, The New York Times reported.
He realized that the sounds were coming from fin whales, but something seemed unusual about them, Scientific American explained. At the time, seismometers, which measure vibrations, were recording the songs, instead of underwater microphones. That meant the whale song was echoing from below ground.
"After each whale call, if you look closely at the seismometer data, there is a response from the Earth," Nabelek said in the press release.
The press release explained the process and its meaning for the scientists:
Whale calls bounce between the ocean surface and the ocean bottom. Part of the energy from the calls transmits through the ground as a seismic wave. The wave travels through the oceanic crust, where it is reflected and refracted by the ocean sediment, the basalt layer underneath it and the gabbroic lower crust below that.
When the waves are recorded at the seismometer, they can provide information that allows researchers to estimate and map the structure of the crust.
The researchers were able to use songs recorded by three different seismometers in order to pinpoint the whales' location and make images based on their calls.
Imaging the area immediately below the seafloor can help scientists understand earthquakes and how they impact ocean sediment. The whale songs could also provide information about the location of earthquakes and the amount of carbon that can be stored in ocean sediments, Scientific American reported.
Because fin whales live everywhere except the ice-covered Arctic, their songs are a widely available tool, Wilcock told Scientific American.
Kuna told The New York Times that he did not think fin whale songs could replace air guns since they create relatively weak seismic waves and therefore low-resolution images. But air gun surveys are expensive and it can be hard to obtain permits to use them, so whale songs can fill in the gaps, the press release explained. And relying more on whale songs can reduce the underwater noise pollution that is harming marine life, according to a recent scientific review.
"It's win-win," Kuna told The New York Times.
- Bowhead Whale Population Recovers Despite Arctic Warming ... ›
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- Nat Geo Earth Day Doc Provides Rare Glimpse Into Whale Culture ›
- Whales Face New Threats From Humans Despite Conservation Efforts ›
CBD oil is one dietary supplement where "organic" labels are very important to consumers. Learn about the importance of organic hemp oil, why it's better for the environment, and which CBD companies actually make trustworthy products with sustainable farming processes. Use our curated list to find the best organic CBD oil that's better for you and the environment.
What is Organic CBD Oil?
CBD stands for cannabidiol, and it's one of the hundreds of cannabinoids found within cannabis sativa plants. This plant compound is believed to have many potential health and wellness benefits, including support for anxiety, stress, sleep, and chronic pain.
Since CBD is extracted from industrial hemp, it contains only trace amounts of THC (the psychoactive component in cannabis plants). Instead, the effects of CBD are much more subtle and promote a general sense of calm and relaxation in most users.
The most important (and prominent) certification for organic products comes from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). What exactly does this certification entail? Essentially, a label indicating that a product is "USDA Organic" or "Certified Organic" means that at least 95% of the ingredients are obtained from organic sources.
For hemp to be considered organic by the USDA, it must be grown without the use of industrial solvents, irradiation, genetic engineering (GMOs), synthetic pesticides, or chemical fertilizer. Instead, farmers rely on natural substances and mechanical, physical, or biologically based farming techniques to cultivate healthy and organic crops.
Choosing an organic CBD oil without additives is important because it indicates that a product is both safe to use and better for the environment. CBD extracted from an organic hemp plant is more likely to be free from pesticides, heavy metals, and other harmful toxins. This allows you to enjoy the benefits of the plant extract without worrying about any additional and unwanted compounds. Organic CBD is also a better choice for the environment, as it is grown using more sustainable farming practices that help preserve and protect land and water resources.
Our Top Organic CBD Oils
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall Organic - Spruce Lab Grade CBD Oil
- Best Organic Full Spectrum - Charlotte's Web Original Formula
- Best USDA Organic - Cornbread Hemp Whole Flower CBD Oil
- Best Organic Flavor - R+R Medicinals Fresh Mint CBD Tincture
- Best Organic Broad Spectrum - Joy Organics CBD Oil
- Best Organic CBD for Stress - Plant People Drops+ Mind + Body
- Best Organic CBD for Sleep - NuLeaf Naturals CBD Oil
- Best Organic Satisfaction Guarantee - CBDistillery Relief + Relax
How We Chose the Best Organic CBD Oils
To create our list of the best organic CBD oil, we compared brands and products on a number of different criteria. These included:
- Hemp Source - We chose brands that use organic hemp grown in the U.S. and that follow natural and organic farming practices.
- Natural Ingredients - Each of the products on our list were examined to see if they used organic and natural ingredients for things like flavoring and carrier oils.
- Strengths - We looked for organic CBD oils that provide different concentrations of CBD to choose from, depending on your needs.
- Lab Testing - All of the CBD products we recommend must undergo independent third-party lab testing and provide access to those results.
- Certifications - In addition to USDA organic certification, we also looked for seals from the U.S. Hemp Authority, U.S. Hemp Roundtable, B-Corp, and other industry standards.
A note about USDA organic certification: before the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, no hemp-derived products could be dubbed as "certified organic" as the hemp plant and its extracts were still categorized as a Schedule I Controlled Substance.
Due to the fact that industrial hemp has only recently become an agricultural crop, very few CBD oils are USDA certified organic. Many CBD products contain hemp extracts from plants that were grown organically, but may not be federally certified yet. Where necessary, we researched each brand's growing and harvesting practices to determine if they follow organic and natural cultivation methods, even if they are not fully certified by the USDA.
8 Best Organic CBD Oils of 2021
Best Overall: Spruce Lab Grade CBD Oil
Spruce CBD is well-known for its potent full spectrum CBD oils that provide many of the additional beneficial phytocannabinoids found in hemp. This brand works with two family-owned, sustainably focused farms in the USA (one located in Kentucky and one in North Carolina) to create its organic, small product batches. This tincture contains 750mg of CBD, but they also offer a max potency Spruce CBD oil that contains 2400mg of full-spectrum CBD extract.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 25 mg CBD per serving
- Source - North Carolina and Kentucky
Best Full Spectrum: Charlotte's Web Original Formula
One of the most well-known brands in the CBD landscape, Charlotte's Web has been growing sustainable hemp plants for years. The company is currently in the process of achieving USDA Organic Certification, but it already practices organic and sustainable cultivation techniques to enhance the overall health of the soil and the hemp plants themselves, which creates some of the highest quality CBD extracts.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 50 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Why buy: Charlotte's Web offers CBD oils in a range of different concentration options, and some even come in a few flavors like chocolate mint, orange blossom, and lemon twist. We love Charlotte's Web Original Original Formula because it is made with U.S. Hemp Authority Certified CBD and organic extra virgin olive oil.
Best USDA Organic: Cornbread Hemp Whole Flower CBD Oil
Cornbread Hemp Whole Flower CBD Oil uses USDA organic hemp grown on Kentucky farms and USDA organic MCT coconut oil. What makes Cornbread Hemp unique is that they only use hemp flower to create their CBD extract, resulting in a cleaner, purer product. Vegan and non-GMO, this organic CBD oil provides all of the secondary cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids of hemp without any preservatives, flavorings, seeds, or stems.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 50 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Kentucky
Why buy: We love Cornbread Hemp Whole Flower CBD oil because it is made using USDA certified organic hemp flowers to create a top-notch CBD oil packed with beneficial plant compounds. Use this oil in the evening to relax and to help you fall asleep.
Best Organic Flavor: R+R Medicinals Fresh Mint CBD Tincture
R+R Medicinals Organic Full Spectrum Hemp Extract comes in a great introductory strength for new CBD users and a delicious fresh mint flavor. Made with organic full spectrum hemp extract, organic MCT coconut oil, and organic mint flavoring, this CBD oil is USDA certified organic for a product you can trust. It also contains over 2 mg of the secondary cannabinoids, like CBC, CBG, THC, CBN, and CBDv, that can help provide the fullest effect.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 16.67 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Best Organic Broad Spectrum: Joy Organics CBD Oil
For those concerned about THC, Joy Organics CBD oil makes a great option. This formula is USDA certified organic and is made with organic broad spectrum hemp extract and organic olive oil for a natural, THC-free product. It's also certified by the U.S. Hemp Roundtable and third-party lab tested for purity. If you prefer, you can also find Joy Organics CBD Oil in several additional flavors, including Tranquil Mint, Summer Lemon, and Orange Bliss.
- CBD - Broad Spectrum
- Strength - 30 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Best Organic CBD for Stress: Plant People Drops+ Mind + Body
Plant People Drops+ Mind + Body CBD oil offers an organic, natural supplement that could help support your body's response to stress and inflammation. USDA certified organic, non-GMO, vegan, and gluten-free, this CBD oil is also doctor-formulated using 100% organic hemp grown in Colorado. It can provide 21 mg of cannabinoids like CBD, CBL, and CBG per serving. Plus, Plant People is a certified B-corp and certified Climate Neutral as they plant a tree for every sale.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 21 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Why buy: We love Plant People Drops+ Mind + Body formula because it provides a doctor-formulated and USDA organic way to help you manage stress and inflammation while promoting overall wellness. We especially like that the brand is Climate Neutral certified, making this organic CBD oil good for you and the earth.
Best Organic CBD for Sleep: NuLeaf Naturals CBD Oil
NuLeaf Naturals sources its CBD extract from organic hemp plants grown on licensed farms in Colorado. Their CBD oils contain only two ingredients: USDA certified organic hemp seed oil and full spectrum hemp extract. NuLeaf Naturals uses the same proprietary CBD oil formula for all of its products, so you get the same CBD potency in every tincture (30 mg per mL), but can purchase different bottle sizes depending on your needs.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 30 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Why buy: We love NuLeaf Naturals CBD oil because of its simplicity. With only two ingredients and one consistent strength, this oil makes it easy to know exactly what is in it and how much CBD you will get with each serving. Take NuLeaf Naturals CBD oil in the evenings to relax and enjoy a full night's sleep.
Best Organic Satisfaction Guarantee: CBDistillery Relief + Relax
All CBDistillery products use non-GMO and pesticide-free industrial hemp that's grown using natural farming practices on Colorado farms. Their hemp oils are some of the most affordable CBD products on the market, yet they still maintain a high standard of quality. CBDistillery has a wide variety of CBD potencies across its product line. We also love that they offer a 60 day money back guarantee so that you can try their CBD oil risk free.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 33 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Why buy: We recommend CBDistillery Relief + Relax CBD oil as a great way to start your day and promote a sense of calm and wellness throughout. The brand is certified by the U.S. Hemp Authority, the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, and the National Hemp Association for their natural, reliable CBD extracts.
The Research on Organic Hemp Oil
What does the science say about organic CBD oil? There is evidence that CBD can help for certain conditions, specifically things like anxiety, sleeplessness, and pain. In fact, CBD taken for anxiety may have fewer side effects than certain prescription anxiety medications. However, as hemp and CBD remain unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it is vitally important to do your research and choose high-quality and safe products.
Using organic CBD oil is an easy way to help ensure that you can enjoy the health and wellness benefits of CBD while avoiding any potential toxins or synthetic chemicals.
Hemp is a unique plant, not only for its rich cannabinoid content, but because it is a bioaccumulator, and has the ability to absorb a wide variety of components in the soil. This trait means that hemp can help the environment through the remediation of green spaces, but it poses great risks when it comes to the creation of CBD products derived from hemp.
Because hemp has a high capacity for compound uptake, this means that the plants can retain harmful chemicals like pesticides, heavy metals, and other residual solvents. This is especially true when it comes to synthetic chemicals that are more toxic to humans, and difficult to remove once they have been absorbed by the hemp plant.
Organic farming practices help reduce the risk of hemp crops absorbing harsh chemicals that may later end up in CBD oil after extraction. When you're taking CBD as a wellness supplement to help alleviate your symptoms or improve your overall well-being, the last thing you want is to ingest compounds that might negatively outweigh the benefits of CBD. This is an important reason to look for third party lab test results when shopping for CBD products since these certificates of analysis can show the full cannabinoid and terpene profile of a hemp extract, as well as test results that search for the presence of any residual solvents. If you choose a non-organic CBD oil, you will need to rely even more on the independent lab test results to make sure the product is safe.
In addition to creating a better end product, organic farming practices are also better for the environment. Sustainable and organic farming methods may reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and use less energy. The use of natural pest deterrents as opposed to chemical pesticides is also better for nearby animal populations and ecosystems.
How to Choose CBD Oil for You
When shopping for an organic CBD oil, you can look for certain key ingredients and certifications to find the best options. Here are some tips on how to compare and choose the right organic CBD oil.
What to Look For
Start by looking for the following pieces of information when considering any CBD product:
Make sure you know if the product uses full spectrum, broad spectrum, or CBD isolate hemp extract. Full spectrum CBD contains all of the natural phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and fatty acids found in the hemp plant, including THC. This may produce a fuller result through the entourage effect. However, if you are concerned about THC, or are subject to a drug test, broad spectrum and CBD isolate products offer a great alternative.
Always check to see how much CBD the product contains. This is measured in milligrams per container and milligrams per serving. A single serving for CBD oil is typically 1 mL, and most brands offer recommendations for measuring and dosages.
The source of the hemp used to extract CBD is vitally important. We recommend choosing brands that use organic and naturally-grown hemp raised in the U.S.A. for safety standards. This is the quickest way to ensure that the CBD itself is pure and free from pesticides or other harmful compounds.
We only recommend CBD oils and products that are subject to independent third-party lab testing. This is a crucial step that verifies both the safety and purity of the oil as well as the potency of the CBD per serving. Look for brands that give you easy access to the lab test results for every product they sell.
How to Read Labels
Here are the primary things to look for when reading the label on a CBD oil or product:
- Type of CBD - The label should clearly state whether the product contains full spectrum, broad spectrum, or CBD isolate hemp extract. If it is broad spectrum or isolate, look for a mark that tells you it is "THC-free."
- Certifications - Certain brands will include seals of approval to show that their product is USDA-certified organic, non-GMO, made in the U.S.A., or U.S. Hemp Authority certified.
- Other Ingredients - Check the ingredients list for anything in the product besides the CBD extract. This typically includes a carrier oil, like MCT or hemp seed oil, but can also include flavorings or botanicals. Make sure they are all-natural and that you are not allergic to any of them.
- Test Results - Most brands include a QR code on the packaging or the label of their CBD product that you can scan to view the third-party test results. This is a key way to know if a brand is trustworthy and whether their CBD is safe to use.
How to Use
Organic CBD oil is used just like any other CBD oil tincture, and is primarily ingested using a dropper to measure out the correct dose. Many brands recommend that you take the CBD oil sublingually by placing the CBD tincture under your tongue for 30 seconds or so before swallowing to aid in absorption. You can also add CBD to food and beverages, though some argue that this lessens the effect.
Some of the most common wellness advantages that people seek from organic CBD include:
- Chronic pain relief
- Anti-anxiety effects
- Better sleep
- Improvements in mood
- Internal balance and regulation
If you take organic CBD for help with sleep, take the recommended amount about an hour before bed. If you are taking it for anxiety, you can take one dose in the morning and another in the evening to help promote a sense of calm throughout the day. As with all CBD products, we recommend that you start with a lower dose and gradually increase it to achieve the desired effects rather than starting with a high dose.
Safety and Side Effects
CBD, while generally well-tolerated and safe for adults, can produce side effects in certain people. These are generally very mild, but can include things like nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, and irritability. CBD may also interact with certain prescription drugs, especially blood thinners and statins. If you take a prescription medication, be sure to consult with your doctor before starting CBD.
CBD has the potential to help with a number of health and wellness concerns, especially anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. To make sure that you choose the right option, go with the best organic CBD oil without additives from a brand you trust. Use our list to help you get started and find the natural relief you need.
Melena Gurganus is the Reviews Editor at EcoWatch. She is passionate health and wellness and her writing aims to help others find products they can trust. Her work has been featured in publications such as Health, Shape, Huffington Post, Cannabis Business Times, and Bustle.
For the first time, researchers have identified 100 transnational corporations that take home the majority of profits from the ocean's economy.
Referred to as the "Ocean 100," the corporations accounted for 60 percent of $1.9 trillion generated from core industries in the ocean economy in 2018 alone, according to an article by the Duke Nicholas Institute. The research was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances by researchers at Duke University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University.
"Now that we know who some of the biggest beneficiaries from the ocean economy are, this can help improve transparency relating to sustainability and ocean stewardship," the lead author John Virdin, director of the Ocean and Coastal Policy Program at Duke's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, said in an article by the Duke Nicholas Institute. Some of the identified corporations included Saudi Aramco and Brazil's Petrobras, Reuters reported.
More than three billion people depend on the ocean for their livelihoods, according to a report by the OECD. Yet across eight industries studied, including offshore drilling, seafood production and processing and cruise tourism, researchers found that just 10 companies in each of the industries generated 45 percent of the industry's revenue.
"The fact that these companies are headquartered in a small number of countries also illustrates that concerted actions by some governments,could rapidly change how the private sector interacts with the ocean," co-author Henrik Österblom, science director at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, said in the article by the Duke Nicholas Institute.
In response, the international community adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, which for the first time sought to "conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development."
But such agreements overlook the ocean's potential to mitigate climate change, Janis Searles Jones, the Ocean's Conservancy CEO wrote in a Nature article. "We need greater ambition to give the ocean a fighting chance," she added.
The researchers' identification could help environmental groups like the Ocean Conservancy pressure corporations into adopting sustainability goals that include climate mitigation strategies.
"Senior executives of these few, but large companies, are in a unique position to exercise global leadership in sustainability," Virdin added.
In 2015, Österblom and his colleagues published a paper that analogized transnational corporations to keystone species, according to the article by the Duke Nicholas Institute. They noted both have a major impact on how ecosystems function and disproportionate power to determine how other species in the ecosystem operate.
"Just knowing who they are is the first step in getting them involved in what needs to be done," Österblom noted in Reuters.
But depending on corporations to adopt sustainable practices may not be enough to reach international sustainability goals.
"In 2018, Chevron announced it would invest $100 million that year in lowering emissions through its new Future Energy Fund," Michael O'Leary and Warren Valdmanis wrote on Vox on holding companies accountable to their climate commitments. That same year, Chevron invested $20 billion in oil and gas.
"For those who put their faith in corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a panacea for our ailing society, we have the unfortunate reality: This kind of allocation of efforts is not uncommon. Superficial public commitments on issues like sustainability and diversity are much easier for companies than substantive action," they added.
Oceans will play an increasingly critical role in the global economy, the researchers note. Whether pressuring the ocean's major actors to adopt sustainable practices will translate into tangible corporate responsibility will reveal itself sooner or later.
- 3 Innovations Leading the Fight to Save Our Ocean - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Ways to Curb the Power of Corporations and Billionaires - EcoWatch ›
- EcoWatch Dives Into Ocean Conservation With Fabien Cousteau ›
By Nathalie Chalmers
The ocean is our lifeline - its health is essential to our health. Securing the ocean's well-being will have positive impacts across many global challenges we face today such as poverty, hunger, human health, unemployment, inequality and more. Finding and elevating promising ocean innovations wherever they may be, connecting them and helping them scale is crucial to ensure we protect one of our planet's most valuable assets.
In that vein, UpLink - a digital platform for scaling innovation and driving progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals - is proud to unveil its second cohort of ocean innovators.
To find these innovators, we launched our second Ocean Solutions Sprint alongside four partners: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), and the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT).
We believe these innovations have the potential to address some of the key opportunities in the ocean space today, such as protecting and restoring coral reefs, scaling restorative aquaculture, unearthing technologies for marine protection and helping invest in nature-based solutions.
Scientists say climate change and pollution could kill off the world’s coral reefs by 2100. UpLink has launched a… https://t.co/kWgbY7ncq8— World Economic Forum (@World Economic Forum)1600707600.0
Over the next few months, we will work with the cohort to help them scale their impact through mentoring opportunities, capacity building workshops, exposure and visibility, as well as introductions to experts and potential investors where relevant. These organizations will join a growing community of UpLink innovators who are benefiting from the platform.
We would also like to thank supporting partners from the investment side Aquaspark, The Blue Natural Capital Financing Facility (BNCFF), Blue Ocean Partners, Hatch and Katapult Ocean for their support during this challenge.
Welcome to our new ocean innovators cohort:
Arc Marine's innovative Reef Cubes can help boost large-scale coral restoration projects and provide eco-friendly marine habitats while also protecting man-made assets.
A new home for endangered sea animals. 📕 Read more: https://t.co/QWeJtsxNDo @WEFUpLink https://t.co/nxKHUY2otR— World Economic Forum (@World Economic Forum)1603746000.0
Atlantic Sea Farms is creating products made from sustainably farmed sea greens, while also expanding opportunities for fishing communities and helping them to mitigate the effects of ocean acidification.
Cascadia Seaweed provides healthy plant-based nutritional food, climate action and ocean regeneration, and economic resiliency for Indigenous communities through seaweed cultivation in British Columbia.
CHARM, the innovative coral farming robot, combines scientific research with computer automation to reduce costs, save time, and grow resilient coral colonies at economies of scale.
Kelp Blue is a restorative large-scale offshore kelp cultivation enterprise that produces sustainable agri-foods and bio-stimulants which displace environmentally damaging alternatives.
Mussel Farm Mechanization in Brazil aims to increase productivity and competitiveness of small-scale mussel farms in Santa Catarina, through the adoption of mechanized farming systems and the integration between farmers and processing companies.
Plant a Million Corals and their adaptable, low-cost coral restoration units, can be deployed to not only increase coral growth but also to empower communities to take an active role in conservation.
Sea6 Energy modernizes tropical seaweed farming to produce large quantities of inexpensive biomass from which a whole range of products are derived.
Australian Seaweed Institute is developing seaweed biofilter technology to protect the Great Barrier Reef through a network of seaweed biofilters that can be harvested for use in products such as animal feed and biofertilizer.
SharkSafe Barriers help promote a friendly coexistence between sharks and humans by installing vertical bio fences that mimic kelp forests and use magnetism to deter shark species.
WIPSEA specializes in digital environmental surveys and deep-learning techniques to map large marine mammals and human activities at sea.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
- House Democrats Introduce Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act ... ›
- How Innovation Is Driving the Blue Economy - EcoWatch ›
- 3 Innovations Leading the Fight to Save Our Ocean - EcoWatch ›
- Israeli Maritime Startups Boom as U.N. Decade of Ocean Science Kicks Off ›
The Atlantic Ocean is getting wider and, after a uniquely ambitious expedition, scientists finally think they know why.
The reason? An upwelling of matter from much deeper below Earth's crust than is usually observed.
"This was completely unexpected," Dr. Kate Rychert from the University of Southampton said in a press release. "It has broad implications for our understanding of Earth's evolution and habitability."
Plate tectonics is the theory that Earth's shell moves over its inner mantle as a series of divided plates, Live Science explained. Their movements are the forces behind natural disasters like earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis, the press release noted.
Scientists have long known that the tectonic plates beneath North and South America are moving apart from those beneath Africa and Asia, widening the Atlantic Ocean at a rate of about 1.5 inches a year, Business Insider explained. This is happening at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an undersea mountain range that separates the North American and South American plates on the Western side from the Eurasian and African plates to the East. But, until recently, scientists were not sure how.
That's because plates tend to move as gravity pulls the denser parts of plates into Earth, the press release explained. But the Atlantic Ocean is not surrounded by dense plates. Instead, the researchers discovered that material from Earth's mantle is swelling up beneath the ridge and pushing the plates apart from below. What's more, this material is coming from depths of more than 600 kilometers (approximately 371 miles). Usually, upwellings of this sort are much shallower, originating from depths of 60 kilometers (approximately 37 miles.). When they are deeper in origin, they tend to occur in more isolated areas.
"Upwelling from the lower to the upper mantle and all the way up to the surface is typically associated with localized places on Earth, such as Iceland, Hawaii and Yellowstone, and not with mid-ocean ridges," Roma Tre University seismologist and study coauthor Matthew Aguis told Insider. "This is what makes this result exciting because it was completely unexpected."
To achieve this finding, researchers placed 39 seismometers several miles deep along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, VICE reported. They left them there for a full year, from 2016 to 2017. This gifted the scientists with a wealth of data, allowing them to image variations in Earth's mantle at depths of around 410 to 660 kilometers (approximately 255 to 410 miles), the press release explained. It also provided them with the first high-resolution and large-scale imaging of the mantle beneath the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
"There are similar experiments around the world, but this was a large scale, with so many instruments for such a long time," Agius told VICE.
Understanding plate tectonics is important for helping to predict disasters like earthquakes, the press release explained. It can also help with climate change estimates across deep time, since plate tectonics impact sea level.
"This work is exciting and that it refutes long held assumptions that mid-ocean ridges might play a passive role in plate tectonics," study coauthor and University of Oxford professor Mike Kendall said in the press release. "It suggests that in places such as the Mid-Atlantic, forces at the ridge play an important role in driving newly-formed plates apart."
- Did Life on Earth Begin in the Deep Sea? - EcoWatch ›
- Huge Victory: Seismic Blasting Is Halted in Atlantic Ocean - EcoWatch ›
- World's Most Remote Island Creates Largest Atlantic Ocean ... ›
The future may be too hot for baby sharks, a study published Tuesday found.
Oceans are warming as a result of global climate change, causing harm to aquatic ecosystems across the planet. In response, researchers from Australia's ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University and the University of Massachusetts asked: How will climate change affect species who rely on their environment to regulate their biological processes?
The researchers chose to study the epaulette shark to better understand how ectotherms, species that match their body temperatures to the environment's, will respond to climate change.
"The epaulette shark is known for its resilience to change, even to ocean acidification," Dr. Jodie Rummer, co-author of the study told the ARC Centre in a statement.
Epaulette sharks are only found in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia and are often the subject of climate change studies because they thrive in captivity and are considered of little concern in the wild, the study reported. "So, if this species can't cope with warming waters then how will other, less tolerant species fare?" Rummer asked.
The scientists examined how 27 epaulette shark embryos grew and developed in average summer temperatures, 27 degrees Celsius, and temperatures predicted for the middle and end of the century, 31 degrees Celsius.
"The hotter the conditions, the faster everything happened, which could be a problem for the sharks," Carolyn Wheeler, lead author of the study, said.
In hotter temperatures "the creatures hatched earlier, were born smaller, and needed to feed straight away, but lacked energy," CNN reported, and emerged from their egg cases after 100 days, The Guardian added. But in the normal temperatures, the sharks emerged from the egg cases after 125 days.
Sharks could respond to warming temperatures in three likely ways, Rummer said, according to The Guardian. The first case is the sharks find colder temperatures, but only if they find the right habitat.
The second is the sharks could genetically adapt to warmer temperatures. But this is improbable because the sharks like the epaulette grow slowly and reproduce at low rates compared to other fishes, the ARC Centre wrote in a statement.
And the last case would be for the sharks to "disappear off the planet," Rummer told The Guardian.
Since 1910, the Great Barrier Reef has warmed by 0.8 degrees Celsius. This warming impacts more than a species' biological processes, according to Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, impacting a fish's swimming abilities and behavior.
Why does this matter?
"When sharks change their behaviour it affects the whole ecosystem," The Conversation reported in an article that analyzed how the Port Jackson shark, a bullhead shark living in Southern Australia, responds to climate change.
Generally the top of the food chain, sharks play a critical role in ecosystem management.
"Port Jackson sharks, for example, are predators of urchins, and urchins feed on kelp forests — a rich habitat for hundreds of marine species. If the number of sharks decline in a region and the number of urchins increase, then it could lead to the loss of kelp forests," The Conversation reported.
Similarly, "Sharks are important as predators because they take out the weak and injured and keep the integrity of the population strong," Rummer told The Guardian.
The future of healthy ecosystems for baby sharks and other marine species seems grim. So what can be done?
Research on how individual species are impacted by climate change is a step in the right direction, The Conversation wrote, which can determine unknown resilience within species and highlight new populations at great risk.
Emphasizing "the importance of curbing our reliance on fossil fuels because climate change is affecting even the toughest little sharks," should come next, Rummer remarked. "Our future ecosystems depend us taking urgent action to limit climate change," she added.
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On Wednesday, governments responsible for 40 percent of the world's coastlines and 20 percent of global fisheries announced a series of new commitments that comprise the world's biggest ocean sustainability initiative.
The fourteen countries, which combined control an ocean area the size of Africa, committed to sustainably manage their national waters by 2025 and encouraged all other nations to join them by 2030.
In practice, this means that these governments will pursue a range of strategies, including reducing shipping emissions, reducing marine pollution, scaling up offshore renewable energy, and taking a precautionary approach to deep sea mining.
"You can't just prosper, prosper, prosper—fish more, drill more," Jane Lubchenco, an environmental scientist, former NOAA administrator, and one of the panel's expert co-chairs, told Fast Company.
"You have to do it in a way that minimizes the impacts on the ecosystem and maximizes the equitable benefit."
The new sustainable ocean agenda, if achieved worldwide, would dramatically increase food and renewable energy production, and contribute a fifth of the greenhouse gas pollution reductions required to stay within 1.5°C of global warming.
For a deeper dive:
The Guardian, Fast Company, Nature, Deutsche Welle, BBC Radio, Undercurrent News, Seafood Source, National Geographic; Commentary: Nature, Jane Lubchenco, Peter Haugan, Mari Elka Pangestu comment, Nature, Erna Solberg op-ed
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This month, a new era began in the fight against plastic pollution.
In 2019, 187 nations within the United Nations amended the 1989 Basel Convention, which governs trade in hazardous materials, to include plastic waste. The historic treaty created a legally binding framework to make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) said in a press release.
The amendment to the Basel Convention, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, will result in a cleaner ocean within five years and allow developing nations like Vietnam and Malaysia to refuse low-quality and difficult-to-recycle waste before it ever gets shipped, a UN transboundary waste chief told The Guardian.
"It is my optimistic view that, in five years, we will see results," Rolph Payet, the executive director of the Basel Convention, told The Guardian. "People on the frontline are going to be telling us whether there is a decrease of plastic in the ocean. I don't see that happening in the next two to three years, but on the horizon of five years. This amendment is just the beginning."
"Pollution from plastic waste, acknowledged as a major environmental problem of global concern, has reached epidemic proportions with an estimated 100 million tons of plastic now found in the oceans, 80-90 percent of which comes from land-based sources," the UNEP release noted, explaining a primary rationale behind the amendment's passage.
Once in the oceans, plastic continues to cause harm. It degrades into microplastics, which end up in our seafood and ultimately us. A recent study also found that plastic pollution increases ocean acidification.
The amendment now requires "prior notice and consent" in writing from importing and transit countries before shipping plastic waste for recycling, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explained. Exporting countries must detail whether a shipment is mixed or contaminated. If permission isn't granted to receive the goods, they must remain in their country of origin.
The new international rule aims to level the playing field between wealthy nations that dump contaminated plastic waste and poorer ones that have traditionally received it. According to The Guardian, before the new rule, shipments containing contaminated, non-recyclable and low-quality plastics were often sold to developing nations for recycling. After China refused to continue accepting contaminated waste in 2018, the onus fell on other developing nations to accept it, a 2020 Greenpeace report found. Once received, the waste was often illegally burned or dumped in landfills and waterways because it was unusable and unrecyclable.
Heng Kiah Chun, a Greenpeace Malaysia campaigner, called the impact from illegally dumping plastic waste from more than 19 countries worldwide "an indelible mark" left throughout Southeast Asia, the report added.
According to the EPA, the Basel Convention made an exception for pre-sorted, clean, uncontaminated and recycling-bound plastic scrap: it will not be subject to informed consent requirements. The idea is to encourage exports of commercially viable plastics for recycling rather than the unrestricted dumping of plastic trash that previously occurred.
In Dec. 2020, the European Union passed additional regulations that are even stricter than the Basel Convention amendment, including a ban on sending unsorted plastic waste, which is harder to recycle, to poorer countries.
Despite leading the world in plastic waste, the U.S. did not agree to the amendment in 2019. However, the amendment still applies to the U.S. anytime it tries to trade plastic waste with another of the 187 participating countries, CNN reported.
Rather than framing the plastic problem as an issue between developed and developing nations, some critics would rather see commercial producers take responsibility. Others, noting that recycling models, especially in the U.S., aren't working, are encouraging a cultural shift away from using plastics, stemming the problem of plastic pollution at the source.
Nevertheless, the convention is a "crucial first step towards stopping the use of developing countries as a dumping ground for the world's plastic waste, especially those coming from rich nations," Von Hernandez, Break Free From Plastic global coordinator, told CNN.
"Countries at the receiving end of mixed and unsorted plastic waste from foreign sources now have the right to refuse these problematic shipments, in turn compelling source countries to ensure exports of clean, recyclable plastics only," Hernandez added. "Recycling will not be enough, however. Ultimately, production of plastics has to be significantly curtailed to effectively resolve the plastic pollution crisis."
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How can you tell that the fish on your plate is the real thing? You can't — and that's the problem.
A new report in The Guardian's "Seascape" series on the state of the world's oceans surveyed 44 separate studies published since 2018, and found that almost 40 percent of 9,000 seafood products from restaurants, markets and fishmongers were mislabelled. According to Food & Wine, the report detailed how rampant seafood fraud has become on a global scale.
The U.S. and Canada had the highest rates of mislabeling followed by Europe, Eat This reported. Food & Wine also highlighted how seafood fraud is not a new issue: in 2017, a study found that half of Los Angeles sushi was not what it claimed to be, while a 2018 study revealed that more than 25 percent of supermarket fish in New York was mislabeled.
"And yet, despite government action and the promise of technical solutions like detectors and databases, it's not getting better," Food & Wine lamented.
The studies in the Seascape report used new DNA techniques and tests to ascertain exactly what was ending up on consumers' plates. They found fish substitutions from the same family, such as low-grade tuna species, being sold as higher-valued species, such as bluefin. The lower-value, lower-quality substitutions point to fraud more than error, the report suggested.
There are "so many opportunities along the seafood supply chain" to falsely label low-value fish as high-value species, or farmed fish as wild," Beth Lowell, deputy vice-president for U.S. campaigns at Oceana, told The Guardian. She noted that all the studies found mislabeling in the global seafood industry to be common and pervasive.
There were also substitutions for entirely different species, including Singaporean prawn balls that repeatedly tested negative for containing prawn DNA, and were instead made almost entirely of pork, Seafood Harvest reported. Other mixed seafood products turned out to be similarly mislabeled.
Among the most alarming substitutions were rare and endangered species being marketed otherwise. One study found that 70 percent of UK snapper instead consisted of 38 different species of fish, many of them critical reef-dwellers, The Guardian reported. This deceptive swapping is a problem for coral reefs that already suffer from overfishing of key fish species that eat algae and allow for a healthier ecosystem, The Guardian added.
The final mislabeling category that the Seascape report highlighted involves laundering illegally caught fish. Rashid Sumaila, a fisheries economist, explained to The Guardian how fish laundering is often linked to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing that threatens the sustainability of many fish stocks worldwide. Oceana's examples of IUU fishing include fishing without authorization, ignoring catch limits, operating in closed areas, targeting protected wildlife and fishing with prohibited gear. Then, too often, illegal and legal catches are commingled when they are processed aboard ships with little monitoring and less transparency. This makes it nearly impossible to trace what is and isn't illegal, let alone what comprises a specific catch. The fraud continues with relative ease and a lot of profit, Sumaila told The Guardian.
In a press statement urging President Biden to increase transparency and traceability in American seafood, Oceana called IUU fishing "one of the greatest threats to our oceans" and estimated that it costs the global seafood industry up to $50 billion each year. In the U.S., up to 90 percent of fish consumed is imported, the statement noted. This non-transparent, foreign supply chain has allowed for a high degree of U.S. imports to come from IUU fishing, the statement claimed.
"IUU fishing is a low-risk, high-reward activity, especially on the high seas where a fragmented legal framework and lack of effective enforcement allow it to thrive," Oceana said. The Guardian's reporting also found the complex and opaque seafood supply chains to be highly vulnerable to mislabeling that is profitable and relatively easy to execute.
Lowell said in the Oceana statement, "Americans have a right to know more about the seafood they eat and should have confidence that their dollars are not supporting the pillaging of the oceans or human rights abuses at sea." She concluded that, "All seafood sold in the U.S. should be safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced and honestly labeled. Until then, honest fishermen, seafood businesses, consumers and the oceans will pay the price."
Still, some in the industry have hope. In another article by The Guardian, Organic Ocean Seafood in Vancouver, Canada, was singled out for its DNA testing. Dane Chauvel, the company's co-founder, uses e-DNA testing to fight seafood fraud. Chauvel supplies many high-end restaurants with wild-caught salmon and other gourmet fish, and can prove that his fish supply is legitimate thanks to the world's first random DNA testing program for authentication. This removes any lingering doubt about its origins for his top-end clients, Chauvel said. The test can even identify the origin river of a specific fish sample.
Generally, "The fishing industry is a mess," Chauvel admitted to The Guardian. "It's dysfunctional." He urged others to follow his lead and voluntarily submit their products for testing and authentication. It would be even better if regulatory agencies followed suit, he added. Chauvel told The Guardian, "I hope using DNA testing becomes more commonplace in the industry. It's been a great business advantage for us."
My Octopus Teacher, the heartwarming story about a man's friendship with a common octopus, took home the Oscar for best documentary feature Sunday night.
The movie brought international attention to the unique ecosystem of the Great African Sea Forest, where the octopus lived, as EcoWatch reported earlier. But it also had a message for every corner of Earth.
"This really is a tiny personal story that played out in a sea forest at the very top of Africa. But, on a more universal level, I hope that it provided a glimpse of a different kind of relationship between human beings and the natural world," Pippa Ehrlich, one of the film's directors, said as she accepted the award.
My Octopus Teacher tells the story of Craig Foster, a diver and filmmaker who sought to overcome a period of exhaustion and depression by taking daily swims off the South African coast. Over the course of these dives, he formed a mutual fascination and then a friendship with one of the octopuses living in the kelp forest.
The focus on a single animal makes the film unique in the nature documentary genre.
"The film marks the first underwater film that combines high-end bluechip natural history sequences with the story of a human/animal relationship that documents the individual creature throughout its lifetime in the wild," wrote the Sea Change Project, a non-profit co-founded by Foster that helped back the film.
The film was directed by Foster, Ehrlich and James Reed and took a total of 10 years to make, The AP reported.
The Sea Change Project's mission is to use storytelling to raise awareness about the Great African Seaforest, the world's only forest of giant bamboo kelp that stretches more than 621 miles from Cape Town, South Africa to Namibia. The kelp forest is one of the few on the planet that is not shrinking or disappearing, and the Sea Change Project wants to keep it that way by helping the world to fall in love with it so that it will be protected. My Octopus Teacher is one tool for doing so, but the film conveys this message in an unconventional way.
"One of the toughest debates focused on how to convey the conservation aspects of the film and how much of an overt message to have," the Sea Change Project explained. "The film's director, Pippa Ehrlich was adamant if we told the story right, the conservation narrative would be embedded inside of it without needing to be vocal about conventional, often polarising environmental issues."
Before its Oscar win, the film had already picked up a number of nominations and awards. It earned a nomination from the Directors Guild of America and awards from BAFTA and the Producers Guild of America, according to The AP. It is available to stream on Netflix.
In addition to My Octopus Teacher, The Sea Change Project has contributed footage to BBC's Blue Planet II, as well as short films including Africa's Hidden Seaforest and Azilali (They do not sleep).
A book about the kelp forest co-written by Foster and edited by Ehrlich will be published in the U.S. in the fall of 2021 under the title Underwater Wild. A new children's book from the Sea Change Project will be published in North America at the same time.
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In the deep waters off the coast of Japan, scientists have rediscovered a relationship that has not been observed in 270 million years.
The scientists, led by University of Warsaw geology professor Mikołaj Zapalski, recorded examples of non-skeletal corals growing on sea lilies, or crinoids. This phenomenon was common during the Paleozoic era — between 542 million years ago to 251 million years ago — only to vanish from the fossil record.
"The coral-crinoid associations, characteristic of Palaeozoic benthic communities, disappeared by the end of Permian, and this current work represents the first detailed examination of their rediscovery in modern seas," Zapalski and his team wrote in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology last month.
In the Palaeozoic ocean, it was very common for corals to grow out of sea lily stems, Science Alert explained. This enabled the corals to extend from the seafloor to the water column, where stronger currents made filter feeding is easier.
However, the latest fossil documenting this symbiotic relationship dates from around 273 million years ago. After that, the specific species of corals and sea lilies that had interacted in this way went extinct, and there was no evidence that other species carried on the relationship.
The new paper changes that. In 2015 and 2019, the Polish and Japanese research team collected specimens off the Japanese coast in Honshu and Shikoku, the study explained. The specimens were found in waters as deep as 146 meters (approximately 479 feet). They consisted of two species of corals growing from the stems of Japanese sea lilies (Metacrinus rotundus). The corals in question were a type of sea anemone known as Metridioidea and a very rare hexacoral from the genus Abyssoanthus, according to Science Alert.
Zapalski called his team's discovery a "living fossil" in a University of Warsaw press release. However, the contemporary specimens have one key difference from the Paleozoic ones: the corals do not appear to alter the sea lilies' skeletons, as microtomography scanning revealed.
This difference could actually explain the hundred-million year gap in the fossil record, Science Alert explained. Soft corals do not usually leave fossils, so if corals were growing on sea lilies without altering their structure, it would likely be lost to time.
This also means that the new find can help researchers better understand the relationship in Paleazoic times.
"Understanding of the ecology of past ecosystems is impossible without a deep knowledge of their modern analogues," the study authors wrote.
Now, they finally have their analog.
"These specimens represent the first detailed records and examinations of a recent syn vivo association of a crinoid (host) and a hexacoral (epibiont), and therefore analyses of these associations can shed new light on our understanding of these common Palaeozoic associations," the study authors wrote.
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In celebration of Earth Day, a star-studded cast is giving fans a rare glimpse into the secret lives of some of the planet's most majestic animals: whales. In "Secrets of the Whales," a four-part documentary series by renowned National Geographic Photographer and Explorer Brian Skerry and Executive Producer James Cameron, viewers plunge deep into the lives and worlds of five different whale species.
"The title refers to the latest and greatest science, which reveals that whales are a lot more like us than we first thought," Skerry told EcoWatch. "Science is clinical and studied. Traditionally, [we were] afraid to anthropomorphize whales. But now, science shows us they're very complex — with societies, families, emotions and cultures."
Following orcas, humpbacks, belugas, narwhals and sperm whales, Skerry takes viewers on a journey into the underwater world to experience whales like never before — watching them make lifelong friendships, teach their young specific traditions and grieve the loss of family. This is whale culture, Skerry explained, and these social bonds are the secret to their success.
Skerry explained how Shane Gero, his friend and sperm whale researcher, helped him frame whale culture in human terms. "There's a difference between behavior and culture," Skerry quoted Gero. "Behavior is what we do; culture is how we do it. For example, we eat food. That is behavior. But whether we eat it with a fork or chopsticks, that is culture."
Using this lens, Skerry shows how orcas around the world have developed distinct cultures around food. While New Zealand's orcas hunt hidden stingrays in the shallows, Patagonia's whales catch sea lions off the beach, and Norway's whales slap herring schools with their tails to stun them. These unique customs are also passed down to each generation. In the first episode, viewers follow five orca matriarchs as they teach their young the family's unique hunting legacy. The skills are not innate traits, but learned techniques adapted for survival in the local environment. Skerry explained how, without this ancient passage of knowledge, specific ways of life would die out.
Herring are a primary food source for Norway's orcas. Luis Lamar / National Geographic for Disney+
"This is the whales teaching their young," Skerry said. "This is generational, teaching the young how to survive, but also cultural — teaching them what matters to their family."
The episode also shows how external forces, such as humans fishing for herring in Norway, have changed whale culture in the area. When Skerry first visited the Arctic years ago, local orcas would corral fish to hunt. Now, with the advent of commercial fishing boats, they've learned to approach the ships and eat the fish that escape.
"I think of this as takeout," Skerry joked to EcoWatch. "If this behavior lasts a long time, maybe it will become culture. Maybe it already is."
For many, the series may be the first time seeing how different populations of whales have developed different customs based on where they are from, just like humans. Skerry explained, "Whales have dialects and they isolate. Sperm whales won't intermix with genetically identical animals that don't speak the same dialect. I think of this like the neighborhoods of New York, separated in enclaves by language. That's what the whales are doing."
Belugas are extremely social creatures with a varied vocal range. Peter Kragh / National Geographic for Disney+
Filmed during three years in 24 locations and narrated by Conservationist and Actress Sigourney Weaver, the National Geographic series showcases many never-before-recorded moments, such as belugas giving themselves names and humpbacks communicating through breaching. Throughout, the underlying messages are the same: whales have cultures that differ based on where they are from; they live in complex societies framed by tradition, survival and emotions; and, they're just like us.
"Whales have preferences for food, parenting technique, singing competitions. In this way, they mirror humans," Skerry emphasized.
In conjunction, Skerry has released a photography book with the same name that shares more secrets from the world's largest mammals. Plus, National Geographic's May magazine, dubbed "The Ocean Issue," aligns with the four-part series and Skerry's book, and will feature four related stories. The issue will publish April 15 and be available at natgeo.com/planetpossible.
Skerry believes the grand presentation of this new whale world will move people. He hopes viewers and readers will come to understand the complexity and connectivity between humans and the other "societies of beings" that we share the planet with. "We are visual creatures. We respond emotionally, viscerally to powerful imagery — it touches a part of our soul. Great science and storytelling that incorporates art checks all the boxes to move that needle," Skerry said.
He added, "On Earth Day, this is a good way to celebrate... this is a new view of the world. This changes our perception: no longer are we apart from nature or above it — we are intimately connected to it."
All four episodes of "Secrets of the Whales" will start streaming on Disney+ on Earth Day, Thursday, April 22nd.
A Southern Right whales is pictured in the accompanying book, "Secrets of the Whales." Brian Skerry / National Geographic