Mysteries of the Deep

Deep4 Think you’ve seen all the fascinating pictures of trippy creatures living at the bottom of the ocean there are to see? The current issue of Smithsonian Magazine has an amazing photo spread full of truly mind-blowing photos of the gelatinous dwellers of the deep. The article is actually a review of a coffee-table book titled The Deep, comprised of more than 160 photos taken by bathyscaphe researchers from around the world. Most are proof of just how “head-shakingly bizarre life can be. The scientists who discovered the creatures were apparently as amused as we are, giving them names such as gulper eel, droopy sea pen, squarenose helmetfish, ping-pong tree sponge, Gorgon’s head and googly-eyed glass squid.”

I love this shot of Grimpoteuthis, a type of Dumbo octopus that grows up to 5 feet in length and looks for all the world like a Robert Crumb drawing of an alien jelly wearing a pair of hiking boots suitable for trekking the Marianis Trench.

The deep sea is the largest ecosystem on earth, plunging to more than 37,000 feet below sea level at the Marianas Trench in the Pacific. It accounts for 85 percent of the space where life can exist and holds an estimated ten million or more species. “But we’re still trying to figure out what’s out there,” says marine scientist Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Unfortunately, the web version of the piece has different – and less amazing – examples than the print version, and it’s tricky to find the slideshow (click the small round dots after clicking the main image). Pick up the dead tree version next time you’re waiting at the dentist’s office.

Music: Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake :: From the River to the Ocean

Plastic Bags Are Killing Us

Plastic BagsOnce upon a time, the “Paper or plastic?” question seemed like it could go either way. Choose plastic and you’re choosing something that may be stuck in landfills for hundreds of years. Choose paper and you’re sacrificing trees (“it takes 14 million trees to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used every year by Americans”). But it’s way more complicated than that. From an excellent article at Salon:

Every year, Americans throw away some 100 billion plastic bags after they’ve been used to transport a prescription home from the drugstore or a quart of milk from the grocery store. It’s equivalent to dumping nearly 12 million barrels of oil. … Only 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled worldwide.

The bags look like jellyfish to a lot of marine life. The bags that don’t get “eaten” become part of the flotsam that now clogs every square inch of the world’s now fully plastinated oceans (some sections of ocean now carry 6x more plastic than biomass).

more than a million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die every year from eating or getting entangled in plastic. The conservation group estimates that 50 percent of all marine litter is some form of plastic. There are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

Despite the hopeful-looking recycling symbol on the side of most plastic bags, recycling centers can’t handle them – they bring most recycling equipment to a screeching halt. You’re better off bringing them back to the store where you got them.

“The only salient answer to paper or plastic is neither. Bring a reusable canvas bag, says Darby Hoover, a senior resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council.”

Sadly, environmental incentives to get people to bring their own canvas bags shopping have never worked. But economic incentives might. IKEA now charges customers five cents per plastic bag, and donates the proceeds to an environmental working group. Fashion might work too:

Bringing your own bag — or BYOB as Whole Foods dubs it — is the latest eco-chic statement. When designer Anya Hindmarch’s “I am not a plastic bag” bag hit stores in Taiwan, there was so much demand for the limited-edition bag that the riot police had to be called in to control a stampede, which sent 30 people to the hospital. is running the Campaign Against The Plastic Plague.