Voice Your Support to Protect America’s Arctic Ocean
The British Petroleum (BP) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico killed wildlife, destroyed coastlines and damaged local economies. Despite pleasant weather and calm waters, cleanup still took months and the effects will linger for years.
But last December, the Obama administration proposed a 5-year offshore oil drilling plan that would not only allow more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, but also would expand drilling in the pristine and remote waters of the Arctic Ocean. These waters are home to threatened polar bears, endangered bowhead whales, walrus, seals, birds that range through every state in the union, and fish. Despite the biological richness of the ocean, much basic scientific data about the region, like what is important habitat for species like bowhead whales, walrus, birds, and fish, is lacking or outdated.
The Arctic Ocean and Native communities that rely on its bounty would be devastated by an oil spill. Conditions in the Arctic Ocean could make oil spill clean-up nearly impossible. Twenty-foot swells, persistent frozen sea conditions, hurricane force winds, and darkness for months of the year would be just some of the obstacles faced in cleaning up oil spilled in the Arctic Ocean. The region is also remote—1,000 miles from the nearest Coast Guard station, without a road system or deep-water ports.
A 5-year plan that allows oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, even though there is no proven technology to clean up oil spilled in these waters, ignores the important lessons of the BP oil spill. The Obama administration should reconsider its plan to drill for oil in these waters. Take a moment to voice your support for protecting America’s Arctic Ocean from destructive oil development. Your comments matter, and the officials in Washington, D.C. need to be reminded that Americans don’t want risky oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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