Boaty McBoatface is shoving off. The Arctic submarine was a bit of a consolation prize to the 124,000 people who voted last year to give the silly moniker to a $300 million polar research ship (which was instead named for David Attenborough), but it has real research value. Mashable reports that the long-range autonomous submarinehas launched its first mission, which will explore some of the deepest parts of the ocean.
Boaty McBoatface will sail south from Chile later this week to start collecting data for the Dynamics of the Orkney Passage Outflow (DynOPO) project. The study of the Orkney Passage, located about 500 miles from the Antarctic Peninsula, includes researchers from the UK’s National Oceanography Center and the British Antarctic Survey. They hope to analyze how turbulence in the waters there, two miles under the ocean surface, might affect climate change.
The Antarctic Bottom Water, a mass of dense, cold water at the bottom of the ocean, plays an important part in ocean water circulation, moving cold water from Antarctica around the world. The DynOPO project aims to see how changes in winds near Antarctica might influence that system, and the data collected by Boaty McBoatface can help scientists model the flow of those abyssal waters and their relation to general climate patterns.
They're both gorgeous and grotesque. Sea apples, a type of marine invertebrate, have dazzling purple, yellow, and blue color schemes streaking across their bodies. But some of their habits are rather R-rated. Here’s what you should know about these weird little creatures.
1. THEY’RE SEA CUCUMBERS.
The world’s oceans are home to more than 1200 species of sea cucumber. Like sand dollars and starfish, sea cucumbers are echinoderms: brainless, spineless marine animals with skin-covered shells and a complex network of internal hydraulics that enables them to get around. Sea cucumbers can thrive in a range of oceanic habitats, from Arctic depths to tropical reefs. They're a fascinating group with colorful popular names, like the “burnt hot dog sea cucumber” (Holothuria edulis) and the sea pig (Scotoplanes globosa), a scavenger that’s been described as a “living vacuum cleaner.”
2. THEY'RE NATIVE TO THE WESTERN PACIFIC OCEAN.
Sea apples have oval-shaped bodies and belong to the genus Pseudocolochirus and genus Paracacumaria. The animals are indigenous to the western Pacific, where they can be found shuffling across the ocean floor in shallow, coastal waters. Many different types are kept in captivity, but two species, Pseudocolochirus violaceus and Pseudocolochirus axiologus, have proven especially popular with aquarium hobbyists. Both species reside along the coastlines of Australia and Southeast Asia.
3. THEY EAT WITH MUCUS-COVERED TENTACLES.
Sea cucumbers, the ocean's sanitation crew, eat by swallowing plankton, algae, and sandy detritus at one end of their bodies and then expelling clean, fresh sand out their other end. Sea apples use a different technique. A ring of mucus-covered tentacles around a sea apple's mouth snares floating bits of food, popping each bit into its mouth one at a time. In the process, the tentacles are covered with a fresh coat of sticky mucus, and the whole cycle repeats.
4. THEY’RE ACTIVE AT NIGHT.
Sea apples' waving appendages can look delicious to predatory fish, so the echinoderms minimize the risk of attracting unwanted attention by doing most of their feeding at night. When those tentacles aren’t in use, they’re retracted into the body.
The rows of yellow protuberances running along the sides of this specimen are its feet. They allow sea apples to latch onto rocks and other hard surfaces while feeding. And if one of these feet gets severed, it can grow back.
6. SOME FISH HANG OUT IN SEA APPLES' BUTTS.
Sea apples are poisonous, but a few marine freeloaders capitalize on this very quality. Some small fish have evolved to live inside the invertebrates' digestive tracts, mooching off the sea apples' meals and using their bodies for shelter. In a gross twist of evolution, fish gain entry through the back door, an orifice called the cloaca. In addition expelling waste, the cloaca absorbs fresh oxygen, meaning that sea apples/cucumbers essentially breathe through their anuses.
7. WHEN THREATENED, SEA APPLES CAN EXPAND.
Most full-grown adult sea apples are around 3 to 8 inches long, but they can make themselves look twice as big if they need to escape a threat. By pulling extra water into their bodies, some can grow to the size of a volleyball, according toAdvanced Aquarist. After puffing up, they can float on the current and away from danger. Some aquarists might mistake the robust display as a sign of optimum health, but it's usually a reaction to stress.
8. THEY CAN EXPEL THEIR OWN GUTS.
Sea apples use their vibrant appearance to broadcast that they’re packing a dangerous toxin. But to really scare off predators, they puke up some of their own innards. When an attacker gets too close, sea apples can expel various organs through their orifices, and some simultaneously unleash a cloud of the poison holothurin. In an aquarium, the holothurin doesn’t disperse as widely as it would in the sea, and it's been known to wipe out entire fish tanks.
These invertebrates reproduce sexually; females release eggs that are later fertilized by clouds of sperm emitted by the males. As many saltwater aquarium keepers know all too well, sea apple eggs are not suitable fish snacks—because they’re poisonous. Scientists have observed that, in Pseudocolochirus violaceus at least, the eggs develop into small, barrel-shaped larvae within two weeks of fertilization.
10. THEY'RE NOT EASILY CONFUSED WITH THIS TREE SPECIES.
Syzgium grande is a coastal tree native to Southeast Asia whose informal name is "sea apple." When fully grown, they can stand more than 140 feet tall. Once a year, it produces attractive clusters of fuzzy white flowers and round green fruits, perhaps prompting its comparison to an apple tree.
If you're worried about the fish, you probably ditched your exfoliating face wash long ago. Microbeads, the little scrubby bits that did the exfoliating, are made of polyethylene plastic that doesn't degrade, meaning that when you flush it down the drain, trillions of those tiny beads end up in your local waterways. In 2015, Congress passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act, banning companies from manufacturing rinse-off cosmetics (like face washes) with them.
Unfortunately, as AlterNet informs us, face washes and other products covered by the law aren't the only problem. There are microplastics in glitter, too. Yes, your eyeshadow and trendy highlighter is killing the environment. And we all know how hard glitter is to get rid of.
Glitter is usually made by bonding some sort of reflective metal like aluminum foil to plastic. When you scrub those teeny pieces of plastic glitter off your skin in the shower, those microplastics end up in rivers, lakes, and oceans, where they pile up—and are eaten by fish and shellfish. (That said, a controversial 2016 study that said that fish prefer microplastics to natural food was retracted in 2017.)
The small fish eat the plastic, the big fish eat the small fish, and we, in turn, eat the big fish. A UN report in January 2017 found that microplastics make it back onto your plate, infiltrating the tissues of the fish you buy at the supermarket. And the plastic itself isn't even the whole problem—when plastic sits in the ocean, it's "a sponge for chemicals already out there," as marine ecologist Chelsea Rochman told NPR in 2013. The toxic chemicals in our waterways make it up the food chain on the backs of those glittery microplastics.
So yes, it's probably time to put away your highlighter and reconsider your New Year's décor. But, as with most environmental problems humans have wrought, that won't make the problem go away, since microplastics also come from [PDF] beach trash that degrades in the sunshine, from industrial sanding products, from tiny pieces of tires and fabrics, and more. But, as a baby step, go ahead and quit with the sparkly stuff.