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CONTACT: David F. Salisbury, News Service (650) 725-1944;

Ocean research in the news

President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore plan to attend the National Ocean Conference this Thursday and Friday, June 11-12, which ensures that marine research will receive some concentrated media coverage this week.

The conference at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey was organized by Commerce Secretary William Daley and Navy Secretary John Dalton. Its goals are to highlight the vital role the ocean plays in the daily lives of people and to help address critical ocean issues.

"Our lives are inextricably linked to the ocean," says a World Wide Web page about the conference. "One of every six jobs in the United States is marine-related, and one-third of our Gross Domestic Product is produced in the coastal zone through fishing, transportation, recreation and other industries."

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One reason the organizers chose Monterey for the conference, which is being called the Ocean Summit, is the high concentration of marine research taking place in the bay. Among the key research institutions is Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station, founded in 1892 and the oldest of the marine research operations in the area. Hopkins, in fact, it was the first marine laboratory on the U.S. Pacific Coast.

"I hope we can help formulate a clearer and more focused national ocean policy," said Associate Professor Barbara Block, who co-directs the Tuna Research and Conservation Center ­ a joint project of Hopkins and the Monterey Bay Aquarium ­ and will participate in the conference.

Block currently is using high-tech tagging methods to study the make-up of the Atlantic tuna fishery. Do the tuna that are caught off the European shores belong to a separate fishery from those caught off the American coast, or are they part of a single, larger fishery? The answer to this question will have a major impact on the way the tuna fisheries should be managed, Block says.

Other examples of current Hopkins research that illustrate the value of ocean-related research:

  • How do fish swim? ­ Professor Stuart Thompson is using the bonito, which changes from a helpless floater into an aggressive marine predator in just four days, to study the anatomical, mechanical and behavioral processes that allow fish to swim. The studies also may yield new insights into spinal cord development.
  • Celestial mechanics affects the intertidal zone ­ Professor Mark Denny has shown that the 18.6-year cycle in the moon's inclination has a major impact on both the time that intertidal organisms are exposed to air and nearshore water temperatures. This calls into question conclusions based on "snapshot" ecological studies.
  • Marine life may have difficulty adapting to climate warming ­ Professor George Somero's study of an enzyme in barracuda taken from areas of differing water temperature suggest that differences of a few degrees Celsius are enough to perturb seriously the biochemical machinery of marine organisms.
  • Spitting out toxins ­ Some species, like the fat inkeeper worm, live and reproduce in highly toxic environments. Professor David Epel's research has revealed that the first line of defense of such species, particularly their embryos, is to physically repel toxins using a special protein called an MDR transporter pump.


By David F. Salisbury

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