March 2022 Research Summaries and Sustainability Tips

It's March Madness at Everblue and we're here to talk about everything from climate change to the inaccessibility of scientific papers to how crown-of-thorns are taking over!


Previously, assessments of marine vulnerability to human impacts have focused on limited taxa (species, families, or classes of life), specific regions, and habitats. This limits how well scientists can predict how specific organisms will be affected.

In this brand new assessment, scientists used life-history traits to compare over 44,000 species from 12 taxonomic groups, and assessed all possible combinations of 42 life traits and 22 anthropogenic stressors to calculate individual species’ vulnerability and adaptability to human-driven environmental change.

Assessments like this one are broad, replicable, and incredibly applicable, meaning there is much useful information to be taken and used for marine conservation and management!

RESEARCH: A trait-based framework for assessing the vulnerability of marine species to human impacts. Butt et al. 2022.


Are you familiar with what marine species are vulnerable in the region you live in? NOAA has a region-specific threatened & endangered list on their website! Simply search “NOAA Species Directory,” click “ESA T&E,” and then click the region you live in. The list will show you what animals are in trouble where you live. You can even click on the “Critical Habitat” buttons to see when and where there are public hearings you can attend and make your voice heard! Change can start with even the smallest of steps, so don’t be afraid to speak up!


Person holding up a silver key.

The Internet has made open access a possibility, and the numbers of open access journals are on the rise!

As more knowledge becomes freely available, it’s starting to disrupt the old system of publishing and more people, including both those producing research and those trying to access it, are turning to open access publishers. This helps open access journals, which usually start small, to gain a higher status in the scientific community, in turn making it more likely that researchers will want to publish in those journals. There are still many barriers to all research becoming open access, but as both the demand and supply increase, it’s becoming more likely that eventually scientific knowledge will be free to all.

RESEARCH: The inevitability of open access. Lewis, D.W. 2012

If available, we'll always post a link to an open-access version of papers in our blog (either from an Open Access journal or if an author has publicly posted their paper)!


So, how do you access articles behind a paywall if you can’t afford to buy it and don’t have access through a university?

  1. Email the first author on the paper to request a copy of their research. If you explain what you are using their research for, many scientists are happy to share their work!

  2. Use the Chrome browser extension Unpaywall to find open access articles as well as pre-prints (papers that have been submitted to a journal but not yet peer reviewed or published.)

  3. Websites like SciHub hosts over 50 million pirated published articles (think of it like LimeWire for science nerds). The site was founded by computer programmer Alexandra Elbakyan, who was frustrated by how difficult it was to get the papers she needed for her research (this is an illegal website, use at your discretion).

She’s not the only one. Many other scientists are fighting to make research more available to all, from taking their names off papers that aren’t published as open access to starting their own journals where all articles are free to read. The tide is starting to shift in favor of free knowledge for all, but it will still take some big changes to how science is funded and shared to get there.

Happy researching! And, you can read a much more in-depth discussion of the issue on “the war to free science” here.


Mangroves are a critical keystone species for many coastal ecosystems. Not only do these incredibly adaptive plants provide food and shelter; they also store carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere. This makes them important in preventing further climate change. However in a study done in 2020, mangrove populations were found to be decreasing annually at a steady rate. Cyclones account for 77% of mangrove loss. The remaining percentage can be attributed to human impacts such as deforestation, invasive species introduction, and pollution. Marine protected areas and mangrove restoration projects should be started as soon as possible to protect these vital mangrove ecosystems, and in turn, the ocean.

RESEARCH: Landcover change in mangroves of Fiji: Implications for climate change mitigation and adaptation in the Pacific. Cameron et al. 2020.


Invasive species are everywhere - probably even in your backyard! You can be an invasive species superhero by staying up-to-date on what plant species are not native to the area you live in. That way when you see them, you can help the ecosystem by removing them! Make sure to either burn the invasive plant matter or toss it out to prevent further spread.


Earlier this week, we discussed how corals live in a mutualistic relationship with zooxanthellae, the algae that live inside of them. The zooxanthellae convert the energy from sunlight into nutrients for the coral, and in return, the coral provides protection. But how do coral acquire these tiny algaes? It depends on if the coral reproduces sexually or asexually!

In sexually reproducing corals, zooxanthellae can be acquired in two different ways: DIRECT or INDIRECT TRANSFER. In direct transfer, the mother coral polyp releases its eggs with zooxanthellae already inside, either being fertilized outside the mother coral or developing as a larva within it. These eggs do not start with the zooxanthellae in them though, they acquire them through a process known as phagocytosis: the eggs essentially envelop the algae. In indirect transfer, coral has to absorb its zooxanthellae from its environment! The amount of free-swimming zooxanthellae over a reef is relatively low, but they sometimes show a preference for newly settled coral!

Fun fact, corals can also obtain zooxanthellae indirectly through ingesting fecal matter from animals that have eaten coral or other things that contain the algae, such as jellyfish and sea anemones!

RESEARCH: Interactions between corals and their symbiotic algae. Muller-Parker, G. et al. 2015.


Despite being such an important ecological cornerstone, there’s still so much we don’t know about coral. You can support groups that are doing research in coral recovery, like the Coral Restoration Foundation, or monitoring programs like Reef Check Foundation!

On a personal level, your own choices can impact coral as well! Certain sunscreens can be bad for corals, and as it accumulates in tissues, it can induce bleaching and damage the polyp's DNA. Look at the ingredients on the back to see if it contains natural ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are “reef-safe.” However, try and avoid some of the following chemicals: Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, Parabens, and exfoliating beads. Local brands that are zinc-based like Little Hands Hawai‘i or All Good are always a good bet.

Just remember, make sure to check those labels! Many sunscreen brands nowadays are removing the oxybenzone from their sunscreen and declaring it “reef-safe” while still using chemicals like avobenzone, which are still harmful to corals. Just because a company puts a sticker on a bottle that says it’s safe for reefs unfortunately doesn’t mean it is, so always turn it over to check the ingredients list before buying.


This study looked at how crown-of-thorns starfish will be affected by rising ocean temperatures. Scientists exposed the starfish to four thermal treatments: 26 °C (control, annual average), 28 °C (summer average), 30 °C (summer maximum) and 32 °C (2100 predicted summer max), and found that starfish movement and metabolic rate increased at the two middle temperatures. It was only at the highest temperature that the starfish began to be negatively affected. This most likely means that the starfish outbreaks will get worse as the climate crisis continues, further damaging coral reef recovery, before the starfish themselves are harmed.

Crown-of-thorns seastar near a coral.
Justin Gilligan (@justingilligan)

RESEARCH: Effects of elevated temperature on the performance and survival of pacific crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster cf. solaris). Lang et al. 2022.


In the same way you can remove invasive plant species, invasive animals can be removed too! In Australia, volunteers are currently diving to cull (which means to kill or remove) crown-of-thorns starfish. You can volunteer in your area to help with invasive species removal too! This includes monitoring, reporting, and prevention. Stay up-to-date on invasive species in your area by visiting the USDA website!

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