What’s That Smell?

corpse flower

The corpse flower can sure raise a stink. (Photo credit: Isabelle OHara/Shutterstock)

Its aroma is likened to that of decaying flesh or rotting meat. All who have gotten a whiff firsthand agree it’s a scent you won’t soon forget.  [Read more…]

Yes, We Have No Bananas – The Demise of the Cavendish

Whether sliced into a bowl of cereal, split in two and served with ice cream, or peeled and eaten, the banana is a common part of the American diet. Americans eat more bananas annually than oranges and apples combined. Bananas are an excellent source of vitamins, including B6 and C, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. While Americans typically view bananas as a snack food, in other parts of the world, they hold a much more important nutritional role. In some areas of Africa, where more than 200 species of the fruit are grown, bananas account for 80% of consumed calories. However, the banana that you know and love a variety called the Cavendish is in danger of being wiped out by a catastrophic disease currently spreading across the globe.


The Cavendish variety accounts for nearly 100% of the bananas imported around the world.(Photo credit: Muellek Josef/Shutterstock)

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Sunk On Purpose

Did you know that the coastlines of the United States have become a dumping ground for old ships, subway cars, and tanks, among other things? Sounds like a major source of ocean pollution, right? Well, think again. All of these items have been placed onto the bottom of the ocean on purpose as a way to build up marine habitat.

The Adolphus Busch, a 210-foot cargo ship, was deliberately sunk in the Florida Keys to serve as an artificial reef. (Photo credit: Michael Patrick O’Neill/Alamy)

What Is an Artificial Reef?

Though exact definitions vary, according to the International Maritime Organization, an artificial reef refers to any submerged structure deliberately constructed or placed on the seabed to emulate some functions of a natural reef such as protecting, regenerating, concentrating, and/or enhancing populations of living marine resources. Some marine scientists also consider structures that are designed for other purposes–such as bridges, piers, and docks–to have the potential to be artificial reefs as well.

Though many states now regulate what can and cannot be used as an artificial reef, in previous years, there was a lot less regulation. This anything goes attitude led to a number of unfortunate projects, including the dumping of over 700,000 tires off the coast of Fort Lauderdale. Lauded as a way to both improve marine habitat and get rid of waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill, this ill begotten project continues to wreak havoc with the Florida coast today. Though the tires were strapped together, these straps were often no match for tropical storms, and many have since come apart. Tires can now roll freely along the ocean floor, destroying natural coral reefs. In addition, a number of tires end up as garbage on the beach after washing ashore. Marine scientists hope to learn from these past mistakes use these lessons as cautionary tales in the development of current artificial reef projects.

In recent years, a number of human-made items have been plunged to the bottom of the ocean. What exactly is down there? Artificial reefs are constructed of concrete slabs, small boats, aircraft carriers, subway cars, and tanks. Some artificial reefs are not made up of these re-purposed materials and are instead constructed especially for use as an artificial reef. Several companies make specialized structures specifically for use as an artificial reef. These structures vary in shape in size, and include mound, pyramid, and cube shapes.

Advantages of Artificial Reefs

Artificial reefs are often lauded as a means to not only increase habitat for fish and other marine species, but also as a way to boost the local economy. Unusual artificial reefs, such as sunken subway cars or ships, are quite popular destinations for recreational divers. Artificial reefs are also touted as excellent locations for sport fishing. For example, a study conducted in 2001 by researchers at the University of Florida IFAS Extension estimated that non-residents and tourists spent $1.7 billion annually on fishing and diving activities associated with artificial reefs in southeast Florida.

This structure was built specifically for use as an artificial reef. (Photo credit: Poelzer Wolfgang / Alamy)

Disadvantages of Artificial Reefs

However, not everyone is convinced that artificial reefs are a good thing. Some marine scientists are concerned that items pushed into the sea, even though thoroughly cleaned of grease and other potential contaminants beforehand, may still contribute to ocean pollution. The tire incident of the 1970s is a clear example that not everything is suitable to become an artificial reef. Conservationists also worry that instead of protecting marine species, such as ocean-dwelling fish, artificial reef just serve to draw populations away from their natural habitats, concentrating them around the artificial reef. This makes them easy pickings for sport fishers, and in no way abates the worry of the overfishing of the oceans. Another concern is the lack of federal regulations to oversee artificial reef programs around the United States. Currently, artificial reefs are managed on a state-by-state basis, and each state has a different set of criteria that they follow.

What Do You Think?

Clearly, there are many advantages and disadvantages to the use of artificial reefs. Where do you stand on the topic of artificial reefs? Do you think they are a good idea or a bad idea? Do the benefits of artificial reefs to a marine ecosystem and to the local economy outweigh their costs? Where do you stand?


How ‘Super’ Are Superfoods?


Some foods, such as asparagus and blueberries, are called superfoods. But what — if anything — does it mean to be a superfood? (Photo credit: Marilyn Barbone/Shutterstock)

If you search the term superfoods, the results will include a seemingly endless list of articles expounding upon the health benefits of various fruits, vegetables, and other foods. Most likely, the articles also will have headlines such as “The 10 Best Superfoods for Weight Loss” or “8 Superfoods that Prevent Cancer.” But what exactly makes a certain food item super? And, will eating these superfoods really benefit your health? [Read more…]

Scientists Decode the Language of Prairie Dogs

prairie dogs

Prairie dogs have a more extensive language than previously thought. (Photo credit: Photodisc/Getty Images)

If you’ve ever walked through a prairie dog town, you probably heard the prairie dogs’ high-pitched alarm call. But did you ever think they were talking about you? Recent research indicates that just might be exactly what they were doing.

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Sleep Like A Dolphin


A dolphin rests with one eye closed. (Photo credit: urosr/Shutterstock)

Has this ever happened to you? You finally arrive at your destination, ready to get a good night’s sleep so you can begin your vacation, and then you find … you simply can’t seem to get a good night’s sleep. It’s not you. It’s a phenomenon sleep researchers have long known about, called the “first-night effect” or FNE.

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Vaccination: Increasing Your Shot at a Long, Healthy Life

Vaccinations save lives. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. Today, vaccinations exist for a variety of diseases, including measles, tetanus, and everyone’s least favorite wintertime malady, influenza (i.e., the flu). But how are these vaccines developed? More important, are they safe?


A number of illnesses and diseases can be prevented through vaccination. (Photo credit: Richard Shock/Corbis)

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A Squirrel With A Sweet Tooth

red squirrel

Red squirrels have a penchant for maple syrup. (Photo credit: Nancy Rose/Flickr/Getty Images)

The maple syrup you use to pour on your pancakes probably comes from a bottle, but one resourceful rodent goes straight to the source when it wants a taste of something sweet.

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Connecting What You Eat with How You Sleep

sleeping woman

What you eat may influence how you sleep, and vice versa. (Photo credit: Photodisc/Getty Images)

Why do you doubt your senses?”

“Because,” said Scrooge, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

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Drones Launch Wildlife Research to New Heights

drone launching

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, also called drones) can cover more ground and easily access hard-to-reach areas. (Photo credit: Sander van Andel/REX Shutterstock/Associated Press)

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—more familiarly known as drones—are quickly becoming a key piece of equipment for wildlife researchers. UAVs are safer, less costly, more efficient, and more precise than other, more traditional wildlife research methods. [Read more…]