After nearly 20 years, scientists have finished their survey of an area of deep coral reefs in the Hawaiian Archipelago and what they have found is really amazing.
Down past the shallow reefs surrounding the islands, researchers discovered the largest known continuous coral reef system on Earth measuring more than three square miles with some areas showing 100 percent coral cover. The system contains more than twice the number of distinct species that can be found on shallow Hawaiian reefs, and in one spot, nearly every single species they found was unique to that region, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Kure Atoll, the northernmost reef in the Hawaiian archipelago, hosts mesophotic reefs with the most species unique to a specific location found in any marine ecosystem on Earth. NOAA and Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory
In recent years, there has been a greater effort to document coral reef ecosystems at depths of 100 feet to more than 500 feet, now referred to as Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems (MCEs), or “the twilight zone.” Those efforts from a team of geologists, biologists and botanists were revealed Tuesday in the journal, PeerJ.
“What is unique about this study is how vast and dense the coral cover is,” lead researcher Richard Pyle from Bishop Museum in Honolulu told the Associated Press. “Although there was a bit of a hint that corals could survive … down at those depths, these reefs off Maui were far and away much more dramatic both because they were deeper and they had a higher coral cover percentage.”
Mesophotic coral ecosystems, such as this one found at 230 feet in Maui’s ‘Au’au Channel, are populated with many of the same fish species found on shallow reefs. NOAA and Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory
Expeditions to discover and investigate MCEs were challenging in the past because they are too deep to reach using traditional scuba gear, and too shallow to justify the cost—between $30,000 to $40,000 a day—for most deep-diving remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and submersibles.
However, NOAA said advances in undersea technologies in the past decade now make it possible to investigate these ecosystems.
In this study, scientists used a rebreather, which recycles the helium that’s mixed in with a scuba tank’s oxygen. With this system, divers can manage to stay submerged for seven hours, which is necessary when you have to ascend slowly to avoid the bends, Wired reported. They also used NOAA-funded submersibles that carried extra tanks and helped illuminate the area.
Much of what researchers know about coral reef ecosystems comes from those in shallow water, and what they’ve seen up until this point is discouraging. Overfishing, pollution, coastal development and climate change have threatened coral reef ecosystems worldwide, which are being obliterated due to bleaching.
Scientists now hope that increased knowledge of MCEs will help characterise the health of coral reefs in general, particularly in the face of increasing stress.
“With coral reefs facing a myriad of threats, these findings are important for understanding, managing and protecting coral reef habitat and the organisms that live on them,” Kimberly Puglise, an oceanographer with NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, said. “Some species studied can live in both shallow and mesophotic reefs, and the species could potentially replenish each other if one population is overexploited.”
I always say – and I’ve written it many times – that gardening is a great antidepressant. As beautiful as nature is to look at, there is something deeply healing about engaging with it.
But if you’re not into getting dirt under your fingernails or dealing with spiders, you can still reap the benefits Mother Nature has to offer. There are so many studies that point to this, I hardly know where to begin.
Another study published in July of 2015 revealed that people who took a walk in nature spent less time ruminating over negative self-talk compared with people who walked along a busy California street.
Most recently, researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Australian Research Council for Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (ARC CEED) found that simply wandering around a park for a half-hour can improve physical and mental health. The findings are significant, as this is the first study to recommend a minimum amount of time people should be spending outdoors.
“We’ve known for a long time that visiting parks is good for our health, but we are now beginning to establish exactly how much time we need to spend in parks to gain these benefits. We have specific evidence that we need regular visits of at least half an hour to ensure we get these benefits.”
For the study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, researchers analyzed data from 1,538 residents of Brisbane City, Australia, comparing the amount of time they spent in nature with four health outcomes.
The team found that, overall, a longer duration spent in nature resulted in increased physical activity, and lower prevalence of high blood pressure and depression with an average of 30 minutes spent outside.
Based on their analysis, the researchers estimated that spending a minimum of 30 minutes outside could cut the number of depression cases by 7% and the number of high blood pressure cases by 9%.
Some 40% of Brisbane residents don’t visit a park or other outdoor space on a weekly basis, but the researchers don’t think it will be that hard to get people to do so.
Researcher Danielle Shanahan said:
“So how can we encourage people to spend more time in green space?
We need more support and encouragement of community activities in natural spaces. For example, the Nature Play programs in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia provide heaps of ideas for helping kids enjoy the great outdoors.” 
“If everyone visited their local parks for half an hour each week there would be seven per cent fewer cases of depression and nine per cent fewer cases of high blood pressure.
Given that the societal costs of depression alone in Australia are estimated at 12.6 billion dollars a year, savings to public health budgets across all health outcomes could be immense.” 
Just being near a “green space” has been shown to be beneficial to mental and physical health.
People who live in urban areas are more prone to stress, depression, and other forms of mental illness. In fact, people who live in cities have a 20% higher risk of anxiety disorders, and a 40% higher risk of mood disorders than people who live in rural areas.
Parks are the most obvious way for urbanites to get out and enjoy nature, but urban gardening has exploded in popularity as more city dwellers have opted to use what little space they have to grow their own fruits and vegetables.
It’s good to know that even if you don’t have the time to devote to an urban garden, or a yard to sunbathe in, just strolling through a park once a week can boost your health in powerful ways.
While most people know and talk about honeybees, which live in a self-made hive together, few people seem to be concerned about the species of bees that are actually native to North America and easier to help out. There are many other species, such as the mason bees and leafcutter bees, that are critical to pollination and are suffering from habitat loss.
Credit: Not on the High Street
Since these bees are solitary creatures, their presence wouldn’t be overwhelming and these hotels can be created in your backyard without posing a risk of attracting hundreds at a time. The native bees require a lot less to be comfortable, as Becky Griffin, community and school garden coordinator at the Center for Urban Agriculture and University of Georgia Extension for the Northwest District of Georgia, said,
“Native bees nest in hollow logs, dead trees and in the ground, and when the forest is clean cut, the native bees have fewer and fewer places to nest.”
As spaces to build their homes dwindle, so does the population of bees needed to keep the continent’s plants pollinated and healthy. By building a nesting site, you can contribute to the health of the population, and, according to Griffin, it’s very rewarding as well.
“Once you start noticing native bees, attracting them and learning about them, you’ll just want to sit on your bench in your garden and watch them work,” enthused Griffin. “They are amazing creatures!”
The essential part of building the hotel is to have the right design down. You can decorate it any way you want, but there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. Some people use just one 4×4 block of wood with wholes drilled into it and mount it on a high enough post, while others use bamboo pieces with closed off ends of the tube. Others, as you’ll see below, have put together much bigger structures that aren’t necessary for your first hotel but definitely much appreciated by the bees. Here are the basic rules to follow:
Use only untreated wood.
Make sure the house has a roof to keep rain and other weather elements out of the holes.
The house should be a minimum of three feet off the ground.
To attract as many species of bees as possible, drill holes of varying sizes. Be sure not to drill all the way through the block as the holes must have a stopping point. Drill bits ranging from 2 mm to 10 mm in diameter are ideal. Beginners who might want to keep things really simple and who might have a limited amount of tools could simply use a 5/16 drill bit for all the holes in their first hotel.
For a first hotel, 12-18 holes would be ideal.
There are no hard-and-fast rules on how deep the holes should be — with the caveat that if you use a large piece of wood or create a “grand” framed hotel and the holes are too long, the bee may not enter it. Keeping entry holes no deeper than the length of a standard drill bit is a good rule of thumb.
Remove splinters from the holes. When you drill the holes, take a piece of sandpaper and smooth out the holes. Small splinters may not seem like much to you, but rough edges in the entry holes could be a big deal and even fatal to a native bee, some of which are very tiny. Rough edges can even deter bees from using the hole.
Whatever style of wood you’re using for your bee hotel will need to be replaced every two years or so because the bees want new tunnels in which they can lay their eggs.
Resist the urge to paint the hotel. Natural wood is more attractive to the bees.
You can have multiple bee hotels. Just be sure to space them out in your yard and garden so they aren’t clustered together.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of bees will visit the hotel?
Solitary bees, most commonly mason bees, will visit the hotel because they enjoy making their nests in hollow reeds or holes in wood. Different types of bees will use different materials to close up their holes once they have laid eggs, and they typically leave soon afterwards because they don’t rely on a social structure to rear their young. Fortunately, solitary bees are unlikely to ever sting you unless you accidentally step on one and get the stinger caught in your foot.
No honeybees will be visiting, as they live in hives with a complex social structure in a bee-made home. No honey will be produced in the hotel, and huge clusters of bees won’t be invading the area.
Can I build it?
Considering the ease with which most people can use a hammer, nails, and drill, the answer is typically “Yes, you can build it.” If you want to make it easier on yourself when you’re starting out, you can use bamboo for the holes.
When and where the place the hotel:
Since native bees nest in the spring, the bee hotel should be up and ready in February. If you live in a harsher region, you can wait until you’re able to dig a post hole into the ground when spring rolls around.
The bees prefer sunny locations, with the holes faced towards the sun and away from high traffic areas. The sun keeps the developing bees warm and it’s dangerous for bees to cross sidewalks or garden paths once they emerge.
What to watch for:
Credit: Wildflower Turf
Keep an eye out for the arrival of the bees, as females will flock to the hotel in the spring or early summer and enter the holes. You can watch them put their nest together and tell what kind of bee it is based on the materials they use. Mason bees use mud to seal their holes and leafcutter bees use leaves.
Though it will all happen behind closed doors (or closed mud/leaves, more accurately), the eggs the females have laid will hatch and eat the food that the female has left behind. They will then spin a cocoon and the fully-formed bee will emerge and chew its way through the mud or leaves to enter the real world. This takes about a year, so you’ll see them emerge the next spring. If there is no pollen or nectar plants nearby, they will likely move away to an area rich with the food they need. If you want to keep the bees in your yard, you can work with extension agents in your area to plant the right things to encourage bees to stay.
By checking with your local garden center, you can also find plants that are native to your area and likely to thrive and attract bees. Keep track of the types of bees you see in your garden to find patterns in their movements and preferences.
How to measure success:
Credit: Place des Jardins
If you see sealed holes in your bee hotel, you know you’ve been successful. If you notice that holes of a particular size are used most often, you can add more holes of that size to future bee hotels or even renovate your current one. If you have the right nectar or pollen in your garden, you’ll see bees flock to them.
If you notice that during the summer one year after the holes were sealed that they are still sealed, then you have a problem that needs to be addressed. If there are tiny holes in the seal, then a parasite may have entered and eaten the larvae or bees. If there are no holes, a fungus could have killed the dwellers. The bees may have also been too cold if they are not faced towards the sun. Work with an extension agent to figure out what could have gone wrong.
Whether or not the turtle was dead at the time the boys ‘surfed’ on its back doesn’t matter; this kind of cruelty against animals is unacceptable.
It’s not nice to harm wildlife – nor is it financially intelligent. Two guys, one named Ricky Rogers and his unnamed friend, found this out the hard way after they posted a photo of themselves ‘surfing’ on a turtle’s back on Facebook.
Captioned “Surfed a tortoise on zee weekend.. gnarly duddddeeeee,” the image shows two guys standing on the shell of a tortoise. Huff Postreports that it didn’t take long for wildlife authorities to be informed of this travesty, after the photo wildlife photographer Matt Wright shared to Facebook went viral.
Michael Beatty, spokesman for Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Queensland, told the Fraser Coast Chronicle:
“These guys are just complete idiots ― there’s no way they should be doing what they were doing.”
That’s likely the understatement of the century, but like so many ignorant individuals, they harmed wildlife for the sake of a photo. At present, authorities are investigating whether or not the turtle was already dead at the time the picture was taken. This is because shortly after the infamous photo was taken, the boys shared another picture of a dead tortoise with ‘RIP’ written next to it.
As Michael Beatty points out, it really doesn’t matter if the turtle was dead or not. This kind of cruelty against animals is not acceptable, and now the ‘complete idiots’ will be facing a fine of up to $20,000.
A slew of rare two-headed sharks have been found from California to the Caribbean and from Mexico to the Mediterranean, leading scientists to ponder why.
Reminiscent of the classic “Simpsons” three-eyed fish, Blinky, the mutated sharks are raising eyebrows.
A two-headed embryo of an Atlantic sawtail cat shark was found recently in the Mediterranean Sea. It was the first oviparous, or egg-laying, shark ever documented with two heads. Each head contained a mouth, two eyes and a brain, and were joined behind the gills, according to a paper published Oct. 9 in the Journal of Fish Biology. The species is considered near threatened.
Two-headed blue shark fetus discovered in the Indian Ocean off Australia. Credit: Christopher Johnston
In 2008, Christopher Johnston, a fisherman in the Indian Ocean, pulled up a pregnant blue shark. When he cut it open, a two-headed fetus popped out. Johnston tried to save it by putting it in a tank and feeding it, but it died.
Similarly, a fisherman working in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida Keys found a fetus with two heads in a bull shark he caught. Upon examination by a scientist at Michigan State University, it was determined to be the “first recorded incidence of dicephalia in a bull shark.”
Researchers from Mexico found conjoined twins in blue sharks in the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of California. Blue shark females carry many live embryos at one time, leading to these abnormalities, said the scientists.
Because these finds are so rare, it’s tough to pin down a cause. Genetic or metabolic disorders, viruses, pollution or overfishing are amount the possible culprits.
Each year, 100 million sharks are slaughtered, often for their fins. Shark fin soup is a popular delicacy in Chinese and other Asian cultures. The number represents between 6.4 percent and 7.9 percent of the global shark population.
Bycatch is another factor affecting sharks in some areas. Blue sharks are among those most vulnerable. Listed as near threatened, some 20 million blue sharks are lost each year to accidental catch by longline and driftnet fisheries.
Overfishing not only puts sharks at risk of extinction, but also shrinks the gene pool, potentially causing these observed mutations.
Nicolas Ehemann, a marine scientist who found two cases of two-headed shark embryos in the Caribbean, told National Geographic that “if the two-headed fetuses are more prevalent in nature, then overfishing is a strong culprit as it may cause the gene pool to shrink.”
Rare cyclops shark found off Mexico. Credit: Enrique Lucero Leon
A rare, 22-inch long one-eyed shark was found in the Gulf of California near Mexico in 2011.
And that fictional three-eyed fish from Springfield? A real three-eyed catfish was found last year swimming in the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. This 100-foot wide, 1.8-mile long canal was an industrial sewer from the mid-1800s and is now a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site.