I grew up in Mauritius, an island off the east coast of Madagascar, with the ocean as my playground. I did not know I wanted it to also be my classroom until I moved to Williamstown, a landlocked town in a Purple Valley in Massachusetts where winter looms from October to April. I enrolled in the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program in September 2011 and I like to believe that since then, I’ve been saving the oceans one invasive species at a time. It all started when I was introduced to Diadumene lineata, a species of sea anemone, two years ago.
Sea anemones are in the same phylum as jellyfish but unlike jellyfish, they don’t go with the flow. They can’t swim either. They can only ‘slide’ along contiguous substrates, which would be an oceanic handicap to most marine species. However, despite its immobility, Diadumene lineata, a Japanese orange-striped sea anemone, is commonly known to marine biologists as the sea-wanderer. Despite not having the ability to actively move across oceans, this anemone, originally native to Japan, is today the most widely distributed anemone in the world. Its cosmopolitan distribution is what led to its nickname, the sea-wanderer. How can a species that doesn’t move and originally only from Japan become the most widely distributed sea anemone in the world?
I was introduced to this species in Mystic, CT, where it is invasive. This anemone was first detected in New England in 1892 and has been dispersed around the world, primarily on ships’ hulls. Today, it is commonly found along the East coast, often occurring by the thousands on floating docks, fenders, pilings and other man-made substrates. This invasive species has also been transported trans- and inter- oceanically on commercially shipped oyster shells. It can also be spotted on drifting pieces of seaweed, floating marine debris, and attached to snails and crabs’ carapaces, which explain its dispersal over shorter distances.
Anthropogenic activities play a critical role in the dispersal of the orange-striped sea anemone, but there is a lot more behind the success of this invader. I spent more than a year studying this intriguing critter for my undergraduate marine biology thesis. As a soon-to-be college graduate, I found many morals inDiadumene lineata’s story. This anemone was the comforting proof that one doesn’t have to be able to swim to cross oceans and that there is more than one path for one to get from points A to B. With those lessons in mind, I felt equipped to dive into the ‘real world’. After graduation I spent the summer wrapping up marine invasive species research in Mystic, CT and, just about two months ago, I traded Mystic, CT and sea anemones for Washington, D.C. and The Ocean Foundation.
At The Ocean Foundation, I have learned about the domestic and international projects that they support and about a palette of other blue issues. Reading, hearing and talking about others’ goals and aspirations, I realized a thing or two about the non-scientific aspect of my own research. All the fascinating facts and science behind this species, unfamiliar to most people, reflect the vastness of interdisciplinary knowledge associated with the ocean. This interconnectedness and diversity is also reflected in what I am learning at The Ocean Foundation. What is science without the rest of the team of accountants, journalists, photographers, office support, businesses and politicians? It takes scientists to turn data into information and a lot of other people, with different academic backgrounds and expertise, to translate that information into a story to share.
Today, I am aware and appreciative of where the funding came from to fund my research. I realize there are different types of donors, with different priorities and concerns, and The Ocean Foundation is a unique and valuable tool that connects donors with projects that meet their priorities and concerns and vice-versa, assists researchers and activists in identifying funding sources for their work.
I am glad to be at The Ocean Foundation this fall, learning about the other complementary and essential pieces of the puzzle that make up ocean conservation. Each species has a history and more than one story. Invasive species can have irreversible ecological, economic and social ramifications. In my case, meeting the invasive Japanese orange-striped sea anemone had life changing consequences. It only took one to conquer the ocean and my interest, and hopefully yours too.