SPEAKER: This is a production of Cornell University Library.
DREW HARVELL: Well, thank you so much, Mary. And really I feel like I owe-- this is the best place to be, to be doing this because I owe so much thanks to Mann Library for their help in exhibiting our Blaschka collection and being able to do these book talks. And this has been an incredible series this fall. So I'm really honored to be part of it, to be able to talk about my new book, Ocean Outbreak.
And I'll emphasize not only the outbreaks that don't-- some of those can be upsetting in terms of changes in our oceans, but also the way back to a healthy ocean. Disease outbreaks in general, not just in the ocean, are mysteries. As you know, when humans get new disease outbreaks. It's a big issue with the CDC to kind of figure out what they are and get to the bottom of it. They can also be sentinels of change in nature. So, for example, this is a New York Times article that talked about increases in wildlife disease, and spilling over to humans, and how these are a consequence of changes in nature. And so they're sentinels of change.
But, of course, this is all about land. And I'm interested in the oceans. And I hope today you are as well. And so what do we know about how these processes work in the oceans? And so this has kind of been our job.
This is a picture of me. I'm a professor, as I think Mary already told you, everything you need to know. That was an amazing introduction. But this is us working in some of our temperate ecosystems north of Seattle. And I've also spent a lot of time underwater, on some of these beautiful coral reefs. This is Palmyra Atoll, which is pretty much in the middle of the Pacific, where we were studying the health of corals. And so each of these ends up being a pretty big mystery that we're trying to solve in nature.
And so the whole focus of my lab group, the undergraduates, the graduate students, the postdocs, and the colleagues at Cornell that work with us, is studying the health of these organisms in a changing climate. And so these three circles of this Venn diagram kind of represent the interconnected nature of a host, the kind of disease agent it has. And then we're ecologists. So we're always looking at the role of the environment in driving these interactions.
And the kinds of species that we've worked on and that form kind of the backbone of the story I'll tell today are corals, seagrasses, and sea stars. Can everybody in the back, can you hear me OK in the back? Is the mic working well? Yeah. OK, good.
And then I'm a professor at Cornell. So really my biggest job is training the future leaders, which is, of course, the best job in the world. And so virtually all the work that we do involves a lot of students, being involved in helping and learning sort of to the tools of the trade as they go along. And this is just a group at our lab at Friday Harbor Labs north of Seattle, heading out to track the wily sea stars.
So I worked for many years with these host/pathogen interactions. I've worked with a lot of colleagues who study diseases of oysters, marine mammals, lobsters, fish, snails, abalone, sea anemones, everything in that picture. And it kind of gets complicated. And so when I started thinking about how to write this book, I was asking myself how am I ever going to tell this story? There's all these organisms affected. This is really an age-old battle between pathogens and their host.
There's really deep mysteries of the biological interactions. And then there's effects of these outbreaks in terms of disrupted food chains. And as I'll tell you, in some cases species endangerment and extinction. There can be human and environmental causes.
And then I didn't want to leave out the fact that there's also really exciting scientific innovation. And there's solutions and ways back to a healthier ocean. So it kind of felt like a lot to handle in terms of how was I going to write a book about all this.
So I was looking at one of Michael Pollan's books, Botany of Desire. Some of you, maybe you've read that. I thought, wow, that was clever. He picked four foods or four plants to focus on. And that was kind of the moment I thought, oh, maybe I could find a simpler way to tell this story. Maybe I could encapsulate a lot of the biology by focusing on four iconic kinds of organisms with their disease outbreaks.
So that's what I decided to do. And these are the ones I chose. So I'm going to tell you today about coral outbreaks. And this is because of any group on our planet, these are highly endangered by climate change. And one of the drivers of that endangerment are the infectious diseases.
The starfish outbreak, because this is again an epidemic that we worked on. And these are keystone species. They have a disproportionate effect on the way the whole seascape looks. And a whole guild of these was toppled and caused an ecological domino effect. And so again I thought this was a good way to tell the story of how important the interactions could be.
The abalone is kind of obscure. I mean, you might think it's kind of obscure because abalones aren't that familiar to people. But it's one of my favorite stories because there are some really exciting biology. It was very hard to figure out the mystery of what was actually killing all these abalone. And then there's a really surprising twist that's been happening more recently, that again kind of makes the case about the biology changing so much through time.
And then finally salmon, not only because the virus outbreaks that have been spreading worldwide are really important. But also because, of course, we're concerned about whether our food from the ocean could be imperiled with these kinds of outbreaks.
So tonight, I'm going to-- it's not quite tonight, this afternoon-- talk about coral outbreaks, the starfish outbreak, the mystery of what's killing the abalone. And then I'll get to the solutions. I mean one of the reasons to write this book is, of course, to consider solutions and to begin the policy discussions about how we can better manage health in our oceans. And then if that seems like it gets a little bit grim, because we're talking about things getting sick and problems with climate change, I just want to end up by talking a little bit about how glass can mirror biological marine biodiversity.
So this is kind of where it started for me. This is what I got to do when I was a graduate student. This was about the coolest thing ever. I was invited on an expedition to live inside this underwater habitat that was set at 50 feet on the bottom of the ocean in St. Croix.
And our team was studying a coral reef ecology. And so we spent a whole week living in here. We never went to the surface. And we spent a lot of time with these tanks on our back, underwater. And it was amazing to be able to just live on the reef.
And then before I launch into talking about sick corals, I just wanted to show this picture from Indonesia, which is one of my favorite pictures of these kind of rare corals that we encountered on a really beautiful dive, just to remind you there's a lot of beautiful reefs out there. And we want to do whatever we can.
But despite that, scientists say a dramatic worldwide coral bleaching event is now underway. And probably everybody has heard that warming is causing bleaching and death of coral reefs and loss of biodiversity.
So just kind of to review, what is coral bleaching? It's loss of the symbiotic algae that live within the tissues of the coral. And so normally corals have these green, brown, red, purple, all kinds of colors. But some of the color comes from these symbiotic algae that live within the tissues and photosynthesize. And they provide critical carbohydrates to sustain the corals. So these are solar-powered animals in that sense.
But under heat stress, corals lose their symbionts and do what's called bleaching. So in this case, this coral is not dead. It still has living tissue. So it might look like this. So even though it's lost its colors, there's still tissue there and it can recover.
But unfortunately, under some conditions, the warming lasts for so long that the coral dies or it picks up a new infection. And so I think it's really important to share this with everybody. This is some of the impact of the 2016 warming event. And I know Australia is a long ways away. And we don't have an ocean here. But these are important resources for the whole globe.
And so this shows the increase in heating. So this part, the upper part of the Great Barrier Reef-- this is the land here, and the sea here, and the reef is here-- became much warmer. And then this shows the loss of coral cover. So it's between 40% and 60% of the living coral cover basically disappeared in that one event, over several months.
And then in the context of the story I'm going to talk about, some of this mortality is also caused by infectious diseases. And so this is a Caribbean coral that we've been studied. It's kind of a lab rat in my lab for the last-- well, it might be almost 25 years or we've been studying this. And this is how it looked in the mid-90s under a major epidemic. And these are my grad students swimming, transect counting.
This purple zone is really exciting. That's really what we studied for so long. It's the zone of the coral fighting back. Corals have an immune system. And so part of what we study is that.
Well, what I want to point out here is this plot from the IUCN, which is the International Union of Conservation Biologists. And this is showing a red list index of species survival. And so a big decline is not good. It means increasing extinction potential.
And I just want to make the point with corals, that this is the most endangered group of organisms on the planet. It has the most rapidly increasing extinction potential, greater even than some of these other organisms. Although, of course, we know we're concerned even about insects and birds in our part of the world.
So in the book, I tell the story about how some of this danger and increasing extinction risk is being caused by these new mysterious coral outbreaks. And here's in 2019. So it's just kind of happening right now, in waters at least a little closer to our home, in the Keys.
And this is still a mysterious outbreak. We don't know the cause of it. It's thought to be a bacterium. And scientists are working hard to solve this particular mystery.
This is a paper we just had out, actually last week. So I thought it would be nice to show. I wanted to chronicle one of the people from my lab. This is Allison Tracy, who just graduated as a PhD student.
And she basically did this amazing survey that looked at increases and decreases of all marine taxa for the last 40 years. Just sort of ask, well, is everything increasing uniformly or is it only some groups? And her main finding is that the corals, again, are the big group that's been showing steadily increasing levels of disease through time. And she's able to correlate it with this temperature stress.
And so just a little bit about this warming. Of course, we know the rates of industrialization, of agriculture, and our cities has increased massively on land. It's a little harder to know how this is occurring under water. So this is a timeline that just sort of shows for the past, well, 50,000 years-- maybe not quite that long-- for a very long time ago, that we're increasing the rate of defaunation and industrialized extraction in the ocean. And this is causing increasing extinction risk and pressure on virtually everything in the ocean.
But what you might not know is that the vulnerability to warming has been estimated at twice for organisms in the ocean versus on land. And this is the new information, that these impacts of climate change are actually potentially much greater in the ocean than even we're finding on land. And part of this is because there aren't any places to hide for things in the ocean.
So I've talked a little bit about the corals. And now I want to tell you some about the sea star work because this was a really surprising event. This started in 2013, completely unexpected. This came out of nowhere. And this outbreak extended from Southern California, all the way up to Alaska.
And it was very rapidly expanding during 2013 and 2014. And the really surprising thing about it was it involved over 20 species. And these taxa were literally dissolving really rapidly before our eyes. And so there was a large-scale investigation to figure out what's killing the sea stars and what would be the outcome of this interaction?
And I could never have imagined-- one of the things I talk a lot about in the book is, of course, this event because we were very involved in it. And I could never have imagined when we started studying this that we would still be studying it. So it's now 2019. And this is continuing.
And so there was a lot of press around it. And then just a reminder of-- this is the intertidal star. And this is what it looked like before that outbreak. So just one of our charismatic, beautiful, as well as ecologically important, marine organisms.
This one-- the good news is that this species has been hardier than some. And although its experienced massive mortality of over 90%, over a large part of its range, we're finding in the populations we're monitoring that it is slowly coming back. So that's sort of the good part of this.
And so when I talk about it-- and a lot of this work is also done by people in my lab-- I kind of talk about a tale of at least two stars, even though there's 20. But that gets a little bit too many to handle. But I like to talk about the ochre star, which is our intertidal one.
And then the subtidal star, which gets this big. It's called the sunflower star. And it was the most abundant one under water. And this is what happened to it in 2013. So this is October 9. This is an amazing photograph taken by a Canadian underwater photographer, taken October 9, 2013.
And you can see these huge stars, all the way as far as you can see, around on this rock. And then three weeks later, they basically all died. So that was the beginning, in 2013, of this big event. And it started with this big sunflower star.
We've continued to work on that. And I include a picture of my colleague, Ian Hewson here, who some of you may know because his lab, including his grad student, Elliot-- which I'm not sure if he's here or not-- but worked on isolating and identifying a potential virus as the culture-- culprit in that. And we worked with him on that.
But I want to show you now a video from a recent paper we had. It's called "Disease epidemic and a marine heatwave associated with the continental collapse of a pivotal predator." And so this story is about how, although 20 species were affected, some very strongly, one of them, the most susceptible-- and for our project with Ian, we worked with the sunflower star because at the time it was the most susceptible.
And this is now imperiled from this. And actually, we're meeting with the Nature Conservancy and Seattle Aquarium to try to figure out ways to, well, one, captive breeding for one thing, and ways to help try to bring them back. So I just want to show you a little bit of this video.
- There's an epidemic in the ocean. Since 2013, a viral disease has been turning sea stars in the Northeast Pacific into melted piles of goo. Of the 20 or so species of sea stars affected by the virus, one of the hardest hit were sunflower stars.
Until now we haven't known just how bad the decline was. But new research has begun to reveal the longer term continental-scale impact of the epidemic on certain species. Scientists in the US are now suggesting we formally list the once common sunflower star as an endangered species.
Trained citizen science divers from California to Alaska counted sunflower stars on over 11,000 dives, while scientific divers from the Hakai Institute carried out more detailed surveys on the BC Central Coast. When they looked at all the data, scientists noted something in common where they saw outbreaks of the virus, anomalously warm water.
We still don't know how these warm water anomalies and the virus interact. But researchers say these warmer than normal water temperatures were related to dramatic star declines. While divers can patrol waters near the surface, we didn't know whether sunflower sea stars might have found refuge at deeper depths. But thousands of NOAH bottom trawl surveys have revealed that when it comes to sunflower stars, the disease didn't stay in the shallows.
For example, data from Washington state shows a crash in populations in both shallow, near-shore, and deep offshore environments after the epidemic began in 2013. Data from other areas on the coast are similar, with population declines of as much as 80% to 100% in areas across the 3,000 kilometers from Alaska to California.
Sea stars may appear to be the passive bottom dwellers of the deep blue. But they're actually pivotal predators in this ecosystem. The loss of sunflower stars is already showing massive repercussions on ocean food webs and kelp forest habitats up and down the coast.
One thing is for sure. Scientists and recreational divers alike will be checking to see when or if the sea stars recover.
DREW HARVELL: So one of the themes that runs through this book is also the impact of temperature and warming oceans on this increasing risk of disease. And so not only are some of the other activities that humans are causing, like pollution, habitat destruction, increasing potential risk of disease, but with climate and warming, it's ending up to be a really big one. And you can see its already played a role in two of the ones that I've talked with here.
And then I just want to make the point, since this chapter- this section of the book is about the ecological domino effect and the fact that it matters to the ecology what happens. Here we have this dominant species, that used to be one of the most common in the subtidal, the deep waters. It's affected all the way down to a thousand meters in the very deep sea. So there was no refuge.
And what you can see is this big decline to basically 0. This is data from California Reef Check. But we see similar numbers in a lot of the continental US. Canada is better, as Alaska.
But here's the thing. So these guys are lovely. They're sea urchins. And normally we like them because they're important herbivores in marine ecosystems. But they're not great when they explode. So these populations of urchins have lost their biological control when that big predator left the scene. And they've exploded.
And unfortunately, they do bad things when they're in high numbers. And the bad thing they do is they mow down the kelp beds. And so there's a big problem in California with the loss of kelp beds, which are important fishery habitats. And that's the whole reason Nature Conservancy came to us and said, we've got to do something. What can we do?
And I'm like, well, we don't have a lot of solutions for this. But at least captive breeding would be a start so that we don't actually lose the species. And so work is underway to try to hope this is going to be better.
So that's kind of the end of that small story. Of course, I could give a whole lecture just about that. But I want to kind of follow the thread of this book and try to tell a bigger story.
And so here's our enigmatic abalone. Now, California has the second richest species diversity of abalone in the world, or at least it did. So these are all the really beautiful different species of abalone that have occurred in California waters.
But then this was once a vibrant fishery. But now three of these species are endangered by overfishing and the disease. So I want to tell you a little bit about the disease part.
And the species that are affected are the red abalone; the black abalone; the white abalone, which is very seriously being considered at extremely high extinction risk in the wild; and then the pinto abalone. And the black abalone is the one I'm going to talk the most about because it's the intertidal one. It's the one people can study easily.
And so the mystery here is what's killing the abalone? So it's 1986. And a colleague of mine, who was then a grad student, sees something strange. He notices on his transect, it used to take him days to count all the abalone.
Why was he counting abalone? Well, because he's an ecologist. And that's what ecologists do. They count things. And he was really interested in a number of questions that I don't have time to go about today.
But it looked like that. And then suddenly in '86, it looked like that. So he came back. And he didn't know where all the abalone went or how they disappeared so quickly.
So for years, he and others noticed this happening other places. Thought it was El Nino, because it was a period of warm oceans. And during that same time the productivity really dropped. And they thought, oh, they're starving. It's a cycle in the ocean.
So this went on for almost another 20 years. So then in the early 1990s, Dr. Carolyn Friedman is on the case. And she's a close colleague of mine actually, the University of Washington.
And she took this photo in-- they took this photo on Santa Rosa Island in California, showing this withered foot. And so they called this withering foot syndrome. And she's a pathologist. So she said, well, I think it's a disease.
And she went through several possibilities, but finally settled on the idea of this rickettsial bacteria. And she found it in the abalone. But the abalone weren't dying. And so it didn't make sense, that she could find this rickettsial bacterium everywhere, but the abalone were only dying in a few places.
And so it took until 2000 that she was able to actually nail this rickettsia bacteria as the cause of the mortality. And the reason it was so hard is it's a very slow growing killer. It doesn't kill them right away. So it can be sitting there in the abalone, but they haven't died yet.
And so it's kind of a cool one because you can really see it. This is what those bacteria look like. And if anybody's has-- anybody here had Lyme disease, anybody in here? OK. So that's also a rickettsial bacteria.
And so normally those kinds of bacteria require a vector to be transmitted. There's a big difference in the ocean. This thing is transmitting directly. It doesn't need a vector. So, again, we have to understand that the whole situation is different. This is a little bit of a new world in terms of disease ecology.
So then another thing happened. And that's really why I love this story so much. So then in 2012, Carolyn noticed that the black abalone were suddenly doing better. And so there was this interest that maybe they had developed resistance, that maybe their immune system had changed through natural selection. But that was actually not the answer.
The answer was even more interesting. The answer is that another infectious agent came into the picture. And it's a phage. It's a virus. And it's a virus that attacked that rickettsial bacteria.
And so this is a case where there's sort of-- I don't want to call it healing powers. But there's a healing interaction within the ocean, that's improving the health, at least in this one situation. And so I think it's a really interesting-- interesting story.
So now I want to just sort of kind of cut to the chase a little bit in terms of talking about some solutions because this is a hard problem. We cannot vaccinate our ocean organisms. We can't easily cover them. We can't easily isolate them or quarantine them. So what actually are we going to do?
So one of the clues came when we all got sick. We were studying the health of the coral in Indonesia, on this island. This was us, doing that. And this was the island, where there was a small marine lab.
And so we all got really sick. And it turned out it was a combination of amoebic dysentery. And then one of my colleagues had to be airlifted off because she had typhoid, that wasn't. And it took her months to recover. So we decided to go back and figure out what was in the water.
And to make a very long story short, this is where we were working. This is Sulawesi in Indonesia. So to make a very long story short, what we found was very high levels of what would be called fecal coliform. It's an indicator bacterium called Enterococcus.
So that meant there was a lot of sewage input and bad stuff in the water. But the interesting thing was we found that it really dropped off in the seagrass beds. And so we decided to go back and investigate what's called ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are when natural ecosystems do something valuable for us. So probably the best known case of this is New York City using natural water, rather than having to put water in reservoirs.
So in this case the ecosystem service we're considering is whether this seagrass bed is actually cleaning up and removing pathogens from the water? And so here what you can see is that the green line is where that fecal indicator bacterium is at least 50% lower than when there's not a seagrass bed. And this kind of gives you a visualization.
All of these spots are not good things. These are those bacteria. And this is when there are no seagrass. And this is the places where there are seagrass.
So this was a pretty big study, that was replicated across four islands, in the same transect. And then the paper that we published from that, that was led by one of my postdocs at the time, went back and completely sequenced all of the bacteria in the water. And so that not only were the fecal indicator bacteria showing a big decline in the seagrass, but so were actual human pathogens and invertebrate pathogens. And so this was a clue that maybe we can use natural ecosystems and some of their pathogen fighting services.
Also in these same waters, this is the surveys of coral health. So this is the coral disease prevalence outside the seagrass, and inside, outside the seagrass, and inside. And so we really got interested in this theme of how seagrass, or a natural ecosystem, has the sort of natural pathogen-fighting and detoxifying services. And that's good for not just coral health, but also human health.
And so I'm not saying that we should give up using septic treatment plants, of course. But I would like to point out that even in places like Seattle, which is where we've been doing a lot of our work now, there are always septic system overruns. And so these natural ecosystems are actually needed as a backup to deal with all the stuff that's coming into the water.
And so in terms of solutions for how we would cool an ocean hot zone, of course, the elephant in the room is that we would dial back warming because it's very clear that this is going to continue to increase the risk. I think there's really exciting research to be done in terms of the role of natural ecosystems and their capabilities for deactivating pathogens.
Now, we don't know all what yet-- all of what the seagrasses are doing. But we're investigating four different possibilities. So one, the biggest one probably, is they're plants. And they're releasing oxygen. And that's basically how a septic system works, is it's oxygenating the water, which kills a lot of bacteria that are killed by oxygen.
Secondly, there are a lot of invertebrates. There's a lot of biodiversity in those seagrass beds. And they're filtering and removing bacteria from the water.
Thirdly, the thing that we don't know anything about, there's somebody-- there's people in this audience that are studying it-- is there's a microbiome. There's bacteria that live on the surface of the eel grass or the seagrass, just like you have bacteria that live in your bodies that are good, that are very potent pathogen fighters. And so again, understanding more about how those natural processes work could be a big help.
Well, these are kind of obvious things. But again, just to tell you how that linkage works, of course, I've talked about the sewage. We've also done work-- and I talk about this in the book-- to show that plastics can convey disease to corals.
And so this was a large study we did, again led by one of my postdocs, Joleah Lamb. And what we did is when we were monitoring the health on every transect-- and this is work that was done in Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Australia. So all across Southeast Asia, on hundreds of reefs, just recording the number of plastics on those reefs. And unfortunately, the number is outrageously high. It's in the millions of pieces of plastic.
But what we found is wherever that plastic was contacting a coral-- well, not every time, but 80% of the time, there were diseases of the coral. And so the plastics were cutting into the coral, but also conveying bacteria. And so that's kind of why we know that reducing plastics in the ocean will also be helpful for health.
And then finally, aquaculture, I don't have time to talk about the salmon in this today. But aquaculture does certainly represent a danger, although it's a necessary danger. We really need the protein from aquaculture in the ocean. And yet, it's really important to use best practices to prevent pathogen spillover.
And, of course, there's the part I love, that there's some really exciting opportunities in terms of the science to develop more innovative approaches to dealing with the issues, of the things that are affecting our marine critters. I think in the end though, it's going to be the world. We need to care about this.
It's got to be the fact that we really, even though we can't see an ocean when we're in Ithaca, that we know that it's important. That it's over 70% of our planet and sort of a vital resource for us, if only-- it's absorbing 30% of the carbon dioxide that we are releasing. And, of course, it's been said that half of every breath that we take comes from photosynthesis from the ocean.
And so what I want to end on is a little more positive note because I can get pretty discouraged by some of these issues. And I know sometimes it's hard to hear about problems that are wicked problems, that we don't have really good solutions for. I want to remind you that not everything is dead and dying in the oceans.
And this is kind of my happy place, when I'm feeling a little discouraged about these problems. I really love this project that I wrote about in 2016. These are our Blaschka glass invertebrates. And Cornell has the largest collection of these in the world.
There are over 60 universities that have the marine invertebrates, that were created 160 years ago by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. And they're exact replicas of particular species. And so we've been using this is a time capsule, to go back-- they made over 800 different invertebrate models-- and ask, how many of these can we find in today's oceans? Are they still-- are they still in our oceans?
So let me just show you a little bit. I think I have time to show you the trailer here. And then I'll tell you a little bit more about that. We made a whole film. But I'm not going to show you all of it. But I'll show you three minutes. Oh-oh. I finally got that under control.
- Imagine a shape. Imagine a color. Imagine virtually any form that life might assume and you'll find it in the ocean. The sea is home to living diversity that transcends imagination, diversity that has inspired our creativity and intellect since we first became human.
In 1853, master glass artisan Leopold Blaschka was sailing from Europe to the United States. The wind died off the Azores, leaving the ship becalmed for two weeks. Jellyfish and other creatures moving past the rail entranced Leopold. He drew them, determined to later capture the shining essence of the creatures in glass.
Marine biologist Drew Harvell curates a collection of Blaschka glass masterpieces at Cornell University, where she's a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
- I have spent my life studying these details of invertebrate form and function. And it continues to amaze me, some of the details that I learn from looking at the models.
- The Blaschka models were crafted, not just for aesthetics, but to accurately represent individual species. Each color and shape, from red tentacle, to a blue eye spot, represents underlying biology. Every living form has function, many essential to the survival of the species. And each species has a role in maintaining a healthy ocean.
- Biodiversity in our marine ecosystems provides proper functioning of those ecosystems and also insurance against environmental change.
- Leopold Blaschka would have had difficulty imagining the changes to come to the ocean over the next century and a half. We have exponentially expanded human population, knowledge, and capabilities. But in the process, we have put the living diversity of the ocean at risk.
The Blaschka models provide a time capsule to measure the ocean of today against that of Leopold's time. As complex and delicate as the glass models are, the living things they represent and the ecosystems these organisms are part of are infinitely more so.
Now, scientists, artists, policymakers, everyone has a brief window of opportunity to take the knowledge and tools that we've acquired since Blaschka's time and apply our collective imagination to protecting this priceless, fragile legacy.
DREW HARVELL: So that's sort of the three-minute trailer for the 30-minute film that we produced about this collection. And the happy place about this is sort of at the beginning of the idea that we would go back and see which ones we could find-- was, well, maybe some of them are extinct or they're missing. But you know, we've seen hundreds of them. There's a lot-- there's enormous biodiversity in the ocean. And there's really beautiful things.
And a lot of them are doing quite well, even though they're much more rare than they were in the time 160 years ago, in 1880, when the Blaschkas were working on them. And so I think it should give us a lot of encouragement about how really resilient and beautiful the oceans are but they certainly need our help.
And then this is just one example of one of those matches. This is kind of one of my favorite ones. And I don't know. I mean, who knows? Which is glass and which is the living invertebrate? It's a little bit hard to tell.
So that's a picture. This is a picture I took, in my sea table, north of Seattle. And then this is the living glass. Well-- somebody who likes reading about it, I guess.
So I just want to thank-- there's so many people to thank for some of the research behind the material in my book and also these different projects. And I particularly though today want to thank Mary Ochs, and Evelyn Ferretti, and Mann Library for all the help you've given me over the years. It's just such a delight to be here. Thank you.
I'd love to answer questions. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: There is obviously a limit. How fast could corals move away from the tropics towards the poles as the ocean heats up?
DREW HARVELL: You know, wouldn't that be nice. We could have coral reefs in Ithaca because, of course, by the time the sea level rises, and the corals come, it could be just great. It's a good question you're asking.
There certainly has been interest in noticing that there's been some slight movement away from the equator by some corals. Unfortunately, they're kind of caught between a rock and a hard place because as well as the heat increasing, the acidity in the ocean is increasing. And unfortunately, it's the heat that's causing the real crisis right now. But we are having crises of ocean acidification in our temperate waters already, with creatures dissolving actually in Puget Sound. And that's going to hit the warmer oceans pretty soon, too.
So I'm afraid that it won't work. Yeah. I think we really have to dial back carbon dioxide emissions if we're going to ever have coral reefs again on this planet. And it's, of course, not just corals. I mean, it's other organisms with skeletons at risk-- a good question. Are
Other questions, anybody else?
AUDIENCE: I want to continue that theme [INAUDIBLE] questions. In the Devonian, where we're sitting on top of the rocks, I understand that the CO2 level and the temperature, it was much higher than the present. And do you find corals in the Devonian rock?
DREW HARVELL: Well, there are some. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: How did they survive? I have a little question.
DREW HARVELL: Really interesting question, yeah. I don't have an answer for that today. Yeah. I think the peculiar chemistry of the oceans today, and the combination of heating and acidification, is pretty grim. Yeah.
Yeah, questions back there? Anybody?
So one of the things that Mary said is I brought-- I didn't bring a lot of books. I did not like being a bookstore today. But I brought a couple in case people wanted autographed copies of either of those.
But both books are very easy to get through Amazon. And they're both about $20. So if anyone's interested, that's a good way to get them.
AUDIENCE: So you talked corals disease that you think is a bacterium. Is the one that you discussed in your book also possibly a bacterium or have you [INAUDIBLE] about that one?
DREW HARVELL: Well, I talked about a few in the book. One of the major ones I talk about is actually a fungus. And it was an interesting one because it's a relative of one that we have on land. It's Aspergillus. And that was what was causing the big lesions in those sea fans. So that again was a mystery that was solved in terms of being able to isolate and then reinoculate that back.
There's also a bacterial disease of coral called Serratia-- Serratia marcescens, which was again identified as being a fecal coliform basically coming from sewage. And that was a disease that was affecting corals in the Florida Keys.
AUDIENCE: I think that might explain the Devonian discrepancy. If what's killing the coral is something [INAUDIBLE].
DREW HARVELL: Yeah. I think the combination of even just the warming, and the bacterias, and the ocean acidification is enough. Any other questions? Yeah.
AUDIENCE: You may have mentioned it before, but when you were discussing the plastic causing pollution on coral reefs, was it that the plastic pollution was causing more bacteria to the coral reefs?
DREW HARVELL: So what we did in that study is-- it was a complete field-based study. So it was hundreds of transects run on the reefs. And so we were not able to analyze what was actually on the plastic. So the analysis of what was on the plastic was from other studies showing there's just all kinds of bacteria in general on plastics. And some of the bacteria that are on plastics can be pathogenic bacteria.
So the damage alone in those kinds of waters, even if the plastic wasn't conveying anything, would be enough to cause disease. So any kind of cut to the surface of the coral can endanger them. Yeah, you're welcome. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: So you mentioned you compared to Michael Pollan's books and for the four different outbreaks. Were there any outbreaks that there were no chance of keeping it or bringing it into the book, and you decided not to, or something else that we should be paying attention to?
DREW HARVELL: Uh-huh. Well, I mean, I think some of the situations with marine mammals in terms of their sentinel value are really important. Seals, for example. are having outbreaks of Morbillivirus, which is a very close relative to distemper.
So that was the one I thought a lot about, marine mammals actually versus abalone, and kind of decided on the abalone just because more was known. And it was kind of, I thought, a more instructive example. But there are a lot of other cases of things that could be talked about.
Well, why don't we have some cider and cookies.
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How can we stop the spread of infectious diseases in our oceans, threatening life both in water and on land? In a Chats in the Stacks talk presented at Mann Library, Drew Harvell discusses her new book “Ocean Outbreak: Confronting the Rising Tide of Marine Disease” (University of California Press) to explain how we can protect aquatic ecosystems from dangerous diseases.
A professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, Harvell has devoted more than two decades to study the devastating impact of diseases on four marine species—corals, abalone, salmon, and starfish—and the destructive effects of human practices such as sewage dumping and unregulated aquaculture. Her research has also yielded insights about how we can boost nature’s own pathogen-fighting systems to help heal our fragile ocean environments.