On Bringing: Away and Toward

For the last month on Mondays at lunchtime, I’ve been logging on to a Zoom Spanish class with a half a dozen other women. All of us have varying degrees of high school, college, and life experience that qualify us as “intermediate” speakers. We all intermittently confuse the differences between ser and estar  (existentialism of the moment be damned) and the reflexive forms of liking things (me gustan los chocolates though me gusta una cerveza). This week, we wrestled for a while with two words: llevar and traer, both of which mean to bring. The first means to take toward, while the other means to take away. But notice, our delightful teacher pointed out, that thing that’s doing the moving–the object of the motion–is both llevar and traer. It all depends on how you look at it. In the way that everything these days feels weirdly disconnected […]

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Some Jellies I Needed to See Right Now

There’s something about self-isolation that longs for the wandering ways of the jellies. So I’ve probably spent a bit too much time oogling videos lately. Luckily, there’s been plenty to virtually drift off to. The Schmidt Ocean Institute captured video of what will likely be named the longest creature in the world. A siphonophore called Apolema, it was spotted coiled in the deep sea off of Ningaloo Reef in western Australia, perhaps resting on a thermal gradient, a cool water mattress, if you will. If that alone doesn’t blow your mind, then get a load of this: it’s outer coil alone was estimated at over 150 feet. Rebecca Helm, jellybiologist extraordinairre, has started a #dailyjelly fix over on Twitter, and put up an amazing thread on siphonophore biology. Sometimes it really hits home that the deep sea is more poorly explored than the Moon. And […]

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The Epidemic No One’s Talking About

For the last few months, the world has been watching the spread of the deadly coronavirus and lives have been upended in the uncertainty of its trajectory. Governments have been mobilizing their responses and businesses have shut down operations. And all the while there’s been another lethal and massive epidemic building. One that has largely escaped our attention. For the third time in the last five years, the Great Barrier Reef’s corals are predicted to undergo widespread bleaching. On February 16, NOAA’s coral reef watch system issued an alert level of 1, meaning significant bleaching was likely, for the northern and southern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef, a region that spans 1400 miles, roughly the distance from Tijuana to Vancouver. Today, the alert has been raised to the highest level. NOAA’s map of the reef is slathered in blood-red. Severe bleaching and significant mortality […]

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The CORALS are Coming!

I’ve got a new book in the works! I’m beyond thrilled that Riverhead Books and my wonderful editor Courtney Young have agreed to publish another book by me. This one is about a creature similarly spineless, and yet it builds the most remarkable skeleton on our planet, one so impressive it can be seen from space: the coral. The story of coral is one that is both urgent and inspiring. The tropical reefs are the first major ecosystem that is existentially threatened by climate change. Corals live perilously close to their thermal limit, and the ocean is expected to continue to warm regardless of what we do to curb our carbon emissions. And yet, what I discovered on the ground in coastal communities around the world is hope that, in some places, the coral will survive. It’s not only scientists and NGOs who are working […]

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How Do I Not Know This #1: Janthina’s Violet Liquid

The news is terrible. I find myself picking up my phone and clicking the “News” ap on my phone every hour, twice an hour, three times. I’ve read all the stuff about dopamine hits from clicking and I get it. It’s an addiction. Plus, like I said, the news is bad so the clicking and the ugly just feeds on itself. I’ve known I’ve needed to get out of the cycle for a while, and lo and behold, I think I found a way over Thanksgiving break. I was visiting my parents, who live in St. Louis, and they have something we don’t have in Texas or when I lived in California either: a basement. And the great thing about basements is that things accumulate there in the way they just don’t seem to as much in attics. Maybe it’s because you don’t have to […]

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On Protocooperation

I’ve been getting Google alerts on the word “jellyfish” since 2010. For eight years a daily roundup of jellyfish news from across the web has been rolling across my inbox in the mid-afternoon. I’ve seen most of the stories several times. I’ve seen giant jellyfish drifting near video cameras on oilrig platforms that are mistaken for whale placentas. They turn out to be really strange and stunning jellyfish called Deepstaria. I’ve seen Michiganders and Missourians surprised August after August when the freshwater jellyfish Craspedacuspa pops into medusa form in nearby lakes. But back in July, I saw something I’d never seen before. In a video taken off the Italian island of Pantelleria half way between Sicily and Tunisia, the camera pans in on a vertical field of dandelion yellow cup corals on a rocky green wall. The corals have long, eyelashes of tentacles that sway gracefully […]

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