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December 23, 2008

News Article: Richmond Times- Dispatch
By: JUDITH E. WINSTON SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT | Times-Dispatch
Published: December 23, 2008

Aristotle, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Charles Darwin, John Steinbeck, the Showa Emperor and Sylvia Earle. What did these famous people share?


At one time or another, they all shared the same research laboratory. This laboratory is so big that even had they all been working in it at the same time, there would have been plenty of room. The laboratory they shared is the ocean. All of them, at one time in their lives, were marine biologists.


Marine biology is the study of living organisms in the ocean, seas and estuaries (brackish water). It is a field almost as vast as the ocean itself. It covers every type of biology from ecology to taxonomy to molecular genetics, providing the research involves a marine plant or animal.


Aristotle, the ancient Greek "Father of Natural History," described more than 60 kinds of fish and marine invertebrate animals.


Jacques Cousteau, one of the inventors of scuba diving, also made films that popularized marine biology and conservation worldwide.


Charles Darwin presented his first scientific paper at an Edinburgh student natural history society, on his study of the larvae of the bryozoan Flustra (a microscopic colonial invertebrate).


The writer John Steinbeck collected marine animals with his friend marine biologist Ed Ricketts on a joint expedition to Baja California. Steinbeck later described his journey in a book, "The Log from the Sea of Cortez."


The Japanese Emperor Hirohito was a marine taxonomist, as well as a ruler. He published scientific papers on a group of colonial marine invertebrates called hydroids.


Sylvia Earle, perhaps best-known for setting deep-diving records, has studied seaweeds, as well as dolphins and whales. She also has been chief scientist of NOAA. In 1995, Earle published a fascinating autobiography, "Sea Change, a Message of the Oceans."


Our planet is 70 percent covered by ocean water. As Earle makes clear in her book, how we treat this part of our heritage, now and in the future, will have an enormous impact on our species and the planet.


Maybe we all can't become marine biologists, but we can be champions of marine conservation. And if you do decide to study marine life as a career, there's still lots of room in the lab. So come on in -- the water's fine!


Virginia science Standards of Learning: 3.6; 5.6. Virginia history and social science Standards of Learning: CE.12.
Judith E. Winston is curator of marine biology at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville.

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