The Maritime Aquarium is using marine and aquatic organisms to predict future ranges and invasions with climate change. The Aquarium’s research on how temperature and acidification affect species interactions is ongoing with partners in the United States and South America. For instance, the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) is increasing in population in Connecticut waters, replacing lobsters as the most important crustacean fishery for Long Island Sound. The state faces the imminent potential for a commercial fishery like what exists in neighboring states (~$10 million in landings/year). As such, the Aquarium has partnered with SUNY Stony Brook and the Georgia Institute of Technology to investigate the effects of both temperature change and ocean acidification on blue crabs’ predation behaviors.
Additionally, Aquarium researchers serve on the advisory committee for freshwater crustacean assessment for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which assesses the conservation status of animals (Endangered, Threatened, etc.). As a part of that work, the Aquarium is publishing work on crustacean range changes in the Andes Mountains, and threats from climate shifts and invasive species.
Two major reef builders in the Caribbean Sea – elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) – have experienced 80 to 98% mortality in the last 30 years. Colombia’s Caribbean reefs are perhaps the most degraded in the western Atlantic, with thousands of square kilometers to map and patrol and few resources devoted to scientific and restoration efforts. The Maritime Aquarium works with local institutions to enhance the reproduction of both Acropora species and to expand the technology to other Colombian national parks in need of restoration. In July, the team was the first to document the spawning of elkhorn coral in the country and the first to observe staghorn coral spawning in the wild in the national park. Overall, more than 100,000 viable staghorn coral larvae were collected, settled onto tiles and placed in a nursery for outplanting next year. These spawning events are positive signs for species in dire need of help in the Caribbean.
Horseshoe crabs have been exploited for fertilizer, whelk bait and now biomedical applications. While the fertilizer market has dropped off, there are still threats to this important species, whose eggs are eaten by migratory birds to fuel their long flights. Populations of the horseshoe crab species in Long Island Sound, Limulus polyphemus, are of concern.
As such, The Maritime Aquarium is advancing research into the animal’s physiology to support better animal-husbandry practices and breeding. The Aquarium is developing and enhancing these procedures through growing animals up from eggs, and breeding large animals in the laboratory. This species is likely to be affected by climate change, so Aquarium researchers are studying metabolic demand at different temperatures and sizes, and the effects of other challenges the animals are facing in the field, namely plastics and pesticides.
A signature program for The Maritime Aquarium is the horseshoe crab tagging and tracking program, run through its partners at Sacred Heart University and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Visit our Citizen Science page to see how you can become involved with our annual spring program.
Located just 100 miles southeast of the Statue of Liberty, the Hudson Canyon is the largest submarine canyon off the Atlantic Coast of the United States, and one of the largest in the world. It rivals the size and scale of the Grand Canyon, and is an ecological hotspot for a vast array of marine wildlife including corals, sharks and other fishes, whales and sea birds. The designation of the canyon as a national marine sanctuary would give these important waters the benefit of federal protection, as well as the benefit of federal funding for research and management.
On June 8, 2022, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) initiated the process to designate Hudson Canyon as a National Marine Sanctuary.
The nomination of Hudson Canyon is the culmination of years of advocacy and community-led efforts by The Maritime Aquarium, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and other conservationists, businesses and community organizations.
The Maritime Aquarium provides accurate data for water quality in Long Island Sound through several collaborations. Since 2017, we have been doing bimonthly sampling in Norwalk harbor through participation in the Unified Water Study with Save the Sound and the Long Island Sound Study. The Aquarium and other participants measure nutrient data, oxygen, temperature, salinity and chlorophyll levels in various harbors of the Sound.
Additionally, the Aquarium collects microplastics from surface waters and monitors ingestion of microplastics in fishes as a part of a study with Southern Connecticut State University. This is all part of important continued monitoring and synthesis of Long Island Sound water-quality data collected by the Aquarium and partners, to be able to report changes and recommend best practices.
The Maritime Aquarium is studying the effects of fishing and aquaculture gear on animals. With partners, the Aquarium is determining if (and how well) kelp farms serve as essential fish and invertebrate habitat in Long Island Sound. Aquarium researchers deploy cameras on the gear in the winter to track fish use by season, along with doing SCUBA surveys to study the effects on the bottom.
Additionally, we are studying the effects that lobster traps – abandoned in the water since lobstering crashed in the early 2000s – still have on fishes in the Sound. The Aquarium advocated for changes to derelict fishing gear laws in Connecticut to facilitate their removal, resulting in a change that now allows organizations to be designated by the CT Department of Energy & Environmental Protection to manage removal of that gear, particularly lobster traps.
The Maritime Aquarium works to raise local awareness about these beloved seasonal visitors to Long Island Sound. Also, by supporting conservation in the Atlantic Ocean through our previous Loggerhead Loan partnership with the North Carolina Aquariums, and through sea turtle nursery work in the Caribbean, The Maritime Aquarium is driving forward partnerships that will be critical to public education, outreach and rescue to help save these endangered and threatened species. Field work supports rescues and hatchling survival in the Caribbean Basin, and the Aquarium is a leader of the AZA SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) Sea Turtles initiative.
What is Biodiversity?
It’s the quantity of plant and animal species found in an environment. (The word is contraction of “biological diversity.”) The more diverse a habitat, the better chance it has of surviving a change or threat to it, because it is more likely to be able to make a balancing adjustment. Habitats with little biodiversity, such as the Arctic tundra, are more vulnerable to change.
The Long Island Sound Biodiversity Database is a searchable web resource to monitor species trends on Long Island Sound. Partners collecting data include The Maritime Aquarium, SoundWaters, SoundKeeper and the Bridgeport Aquaculture School.
Data is collected on 125 species of marine organism and water quality variables including pH, salinity, temperature, turbidity and dissolved oxygen. Click here to visit the Long Island Sound Biodiversity Database and run your own reports. The public user name is Public User and the password is password. (They are case sensitive.)
Biodiversity monitoring is important to identify data needs for population estimates for species of importance to the Sound, both native and invasive. To underscore the importance of continual sampling, current Maritime Aquarium staff have identified invasive species in the Sound in the past that are potential threats to aquaculture assets. Additionally, using The Maritime Aquarium's long-term trawling and collection dataset in conjunction with other publicly-available data sets from the Long Island Sound, our researchers will analyze the patterns of change of assemblages of animals in Long Island Sound with those in surrounding waters to contextualize how this environment is changing and how native species are shifting their geography to combat it.