Welcome to You Ask Andy

Elsie Sterkel, age 15, of Glenwood, Iowa, for her question:

How does marine biology benefit us?

The problems of pollution open our eyes to nature’s global systems of interwoven ecology. Fumes from industrial zones are wafted clear around the world. Insecticides drain from our farmlands into the sea and are swept thousands of miles to the Antarctic. Whatever good or harm we do to our own environment spreads far beyond our boundaries. To an even greater extent, what happens in the ocean affects the ecology of the land. The rain that feeds the fertile fields of Nebraska was evaporated from the seas, hundreds of miles away.

Whether we like it or not, our survival is linked directly or indirectly with all living and non living things on our planet. This is ecology. The links between land and ocean involve the water cycle, the oxygen cycle and other global systems of circu¬lation. Living things require re cycling food supplies. On land, the food chains start with the photosynthesis of green plants. Animals that feed on plants provide food for the meat eaters.

In the ocean, the sunlit surface waters teem with vast meadows of floating photo plankton. These microscopic plants use photosynthesis to grow and multiply, thereby creating carbohydrates for the plant eating animal plankton that supplies the food chain for larger and still larger fishes. The interwoven ecology of the ocean is delicately balanced. When our oil spills and pollutants destroy small fishes, larger fishes go hungry and the full extent of the damage is still untraceable.

Mankind started eating seafood ages ago but we need to take much more food from the sea. At present, the ocean fish supplies less than 3 per cent of our protein  ¬and half the world needs more protein. However, more fishing may upset the marine ecology in a big way. To get the extra food from the sea, we need the help of trained marine biologist. They study the roles of each fish in the total ecology. Knowing this, over fishing and removing vital links in the food chain can be avoided. Let’s not plunder the sea carelessly and ruin its rich rewards for the future.

All sorts of promising experiments are underway to get more food from the sea, safely. For example, delicious flatfish called plaice were abundant along the Dutch coast. Some were transported to less crowded waters along the shores of England. There they multiplied and even grew larger. We can expect successful experiments in relocating other fish and maybe shellfish. Though mankind has been fishing for ages, our methods have not kept up with the times. We can expect better ways to catch bigger harvests of fish. Echo sounding is being used to locate schools deep below the surface. Bright lights are used to attract fish to a boat    where they are stunned in an electric field and vacuumed on board. Some marine biologists have processed fish food to make protein rich flour. Now they are trying to give it a palatable flavor.

We are just beginning to explore the possible benefits of marine biology. At present, we desperately need to use more of its fishy protein. Scientists are also searching the seas for medical benefits. A drug that slows animal heartbeat has been found in the venom of the weever fish. Another drug, made from stonefish venom, lowers the blood pressure of animals. These drugs and maybe also antibodies from marine bacteria may prove useful to medical science.


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