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Sea Life 2014


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Under the sea, plants and animals are often quite remarkable. In underwater images taken around the world, photographer Foster Bam captures fascinating examples of sea life, which are described by Dr. John McCosker, director emeritus of the California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium. Sea Life features 24 photos—a major and a minor photo each month. Prepare to dive!

14 x 22 inches, open

About Sea Life:


Since 1991 Foster Bam and I have annually created a Sea Life Calendar for the California Academy of Sciences that explores and explains life on a coral reef. The subjects have ranged from minute sea slugs to monstrous manta rays, located in exotic outposts from Isla Tiburon, Mexico, to Komodo Island, Indonesia. Foster has photographed the denizens of pristine reefs as well as those of reefs damaged by coral bleaching, and habitats ranging from mucky shallow bays to the open sea. We have enjoyed sharing these calendars with you but must now say that this will be our last calendar.


Looking back, we have seen that oceanic ecosystems, and particularly those of coral reefs, have suffered significantly since the late 20th century. Human refuse, chemical pollution, sedimentation, climate change and ocean acidification have taken their toll on reefs. Corals have become bleached as temperatures increase, smothered by algae as herbivorous fishes have been removed, and demolished by dynamite and cyanide in many areas. Overfishing, particularly at higher levels of the food chain, has dramatically reduced fish populations and the ecosystem services that they once provided. When we began diving it wasn’t uncommon to jump in and see schools of reef sharks as one’s bubbles cleared. Ninety percent of the world’s sharks are now gone, their fins removed for soup, and the ecology of food webs are imbalanced without them. Invasive species have contributed to this depletion by aggressively competing for food and by consuming the young and adults of native species. Lionfish from the tropical Pacific have recently invaded the Caribbean with catastrophic consequences, and San Francisco Bay, once the most productive estuary in the eastern Pacific, is now home to invaders that account for 97 percent of the species and 99 percent of the Bay’s biomass.

Marine research has accelerated since 1991. The Census of Marine Life, a 10-year international effort involving 2,700 international scientists, undertook 540 expeditions and discovered thousands of additional new species. It will provide a baseline of the diversity and distribution of marine life that will allow proper management and conservation of the oceanic life.

There is hope for the future of the oceans. Marine life is resilient if given a chance. Marine Protected Areas have been created to serve as nurseries for spawning adults. Most marine life are prolific spawners and the young will quickly inhabit adjoining areas to provide the stocks that have been extirpated. Fishery limits and seasons have been imposed on local and international waters and several threatened species have returned, a decade later, to healthy levels. Fish farming and ranching, where appropriate, provide half of all seafood consumed, and improvements have been made to reduce the associated pollution and excessive use of antibiotics. However the depletion of fish stocks (e.g. menhaden, anchovies, sardines) required to feed such high value species continues unabated. More Americans are choosing to purchase only sustainable seafood, assisted by suppliers such as Wal-Mart and Costco and institutions such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium which produce wallet-sized cards that list appropriate species. Many aquarium species are now bred in captivity so that wild stocks needn’t be depleted. And most promising is the vigor with which children are learning to appreciate and respect the marine environment. Museums like the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and its Steinhart Aquarium are helping to explore the life forms and systems of the sea, and through the education provided by their displays and programs the fragile oceans can be protected for future generations. To find out more visit


–John E. McCosker, PhD
California Academy of Sciences

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