Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The extraordinary life of whale carcasses in the deep ocean

By Joan Manel Alfaro Lucas

Translated by: Lídia Paes Leme

Edited by: Katy Shoemaker

This story starts in 1987, when, during an oceanographic expedition lead by Dr. Craig Smith (University of Hawaii), the research robot Alvin found a whale carcass on the ocean floor in Santa Catalina Bay, California, 1240 meters deep (Smith et al., 1989). This discovery reinforced an idea that had been suggested before, that even though whale deaths are common in coastal zones, many die in spots far away from beaches and sink down to the depths of the ocean.
The deep ocean covers 63% of the planet's surface and is considered the biggest biome on Earth. It is unique and extreme due to its low temperatures, high pressure, and darkness (light doesn't penetrate more than 200 meters below surface, where the deep ocean starts). The absence of light makes organic matter production via photosynthesis impossible. Because of this, the deep ocean ecosystem is limited in food sources and depends almost exclusively on the sinking of organic matter produced in the surface waters. In the vast, cold, dark deserts of the deep ocean known as the abyssal plains, the few organisms that survive there filter water and sediments to take in the little organic matter that sinks down from the surface.
So now what about that Californian whale that Dr. Smith found? The carcass was completely missing meat, and other indicators suggested the whale carcass had been there for several years. However, the skeleton and the sediment around it were bursting with life! There were worms, snails, gastropods, dense mats of bacteria, and bivalves such as clams and mussels. The carcass was a real oasis of life in the deep desert of the bay. The scientists began to understand that, for an environment so poor in nutrients, the arrival of a whale carcass is an extraordinary event.
Whales are the largest animals that inhabit Earth. The blue whale can be 30 meters (~100 feet) long and weigh 120 kilotons and is the largest animal that has ever existed on our planet. To the desert depths of the ocean floor, their carcasses are the biggest source of organic matter that arrives from the surface. One carcass from a 40-kiloton whale is the equivalent of 2000 years worth of organic matter falling down at once!

Image 1 – Whale carcass on the deep ocean floor of Santa Catalina Bay, California, densely colonized by chemosynthetic bacterial mats. Photo by Craig R. Smith, University of Hawaii, USA.

Some of the organisms found for the first time on the carcass by Dr. Smith became much more interesting when identified. For example, some bivalve species found there are known to have symbiotic relationships with chemosynthetic bacteria. Those mussels feed on the matter produced by the bacteria, a process similar to what shallow water corals have with photosynthetic organisms. As it turns out, the dense bacterial mats found on the carcass were of that kind of bacteria.
Similar to vegetables in the terrestrial environment, these chemosythetic bacteria form the base of the food chain in the deep ocean. Chemosynthetic communities feed on organic compounds, some of which can be abundant on the sea floor. This is the case in hydrothermal vents, which form in parts of the floor where volcanic activity is elevated and hydrocarbons flow from underground reservoirs (post about hydrothermal vents here). The bivalve species associated with the whale carcass were discovered for the first time at cold hydrothermal vents! These similarities suggested that the whale carcass acts as a trampoline for the common habitants of different chemosynthetic communities to disperse, as they are usually separated by distances larger than can be reached by larval dispersion (Smith et al., 1989).
This discovery, other than being revolutionary for the ecology of chemosynthetic communities, led several groups of scientists to research more about these ecosystems. Rather than looking for a carcass on the vast ocean floor (a real needle in a haystack situation), scientists started to sink dead whale carcasses with weights. They were able to sink them in a determined spot where they could sample whenever needed. After these experiments, scientists began to understand that not only chemosynthetic communities developed in the carcasses, but also there were extremely diverse and abundant communities that explored the carcasses in amazing ways… for almost a century!

Image 2 – Hagfish feeding on a whale carcass during the ecological state of the mobile necrophagous organisms in Santa Catalina Bay, California, USA. Photo by Craig R Smith, University of Hawaii, USA

The whale carcasses develop mostly three ecological successive states, meaning three communities can be distinguished throughout time (Smith et al., 2015). The first stage starts with the arrival of the carcass in the bottom and includes the mobile necrophagous organisms. Hundreds of animals, like hagfish, drill the meat while sharks bite big chunks off. These communities, similar to vultures in a savanna, remove several dozen kilograms by day and can consume all the meat in up to two years, depending on the size of the carcass.


Image 3 – Crabs, snails, and anemones colonizing the skeleton during the enrichment and opportunist stage in a whale carcass in Monterey Canyon, California, USA. Photo by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. USA.

The second stage involves the enrichment of opportunists and can also last up to two years. During this period, high densities of worms, crustaceans, and other invertebrates colonize the sediment around the skeleton that was exposed after the flesh was consumed. These invertebrates feed directly on the left over fat and meat left behind by the necrophagous organisms, as well as the bones, which are rich in protein and fat.
The last stage, the one Dr. Smith's whale was in when he found it, is the sulphophilic stage. Some microorganisms are able to penetrate the dense bone structure and access the big quantities of fat remaining in the interior of the bones. These organisms use the sulfur dissolved in water to digest the fat, creating inorganic compounds as secondary products. Similar process can also occur in the surrounding sediment, which was impacted by the organic matter of the carcass. This creates enough of a flux to develop a community based on chemosynthesis. This is the longest stage, lasting up to 80 years.
The discoveries around whale carcasses don't stop there. Since 1987, when Dr. Smith studied the first deep ocean carcass, 129 new species have been discovered, many of them only found in those communities. The most surprising one was discovered in 2002, when Osedax, a new kind of worm, was discovered in Monterey Canyon, California, at 2891 meters deep (Rousse et al., 2004). The species in this genre are sessile and don't have a mouth nor anus, nor any kind of digestive system, yet they feed on whale bones!
Osedax have a structure called a root, which helps to answer the multiple mysteries surrounding these organisms. This structure, with globular ramifications, fixes the organism to the bones and has pumps that acidify the bone matter. The “soup” produced in this process is sent up through the root into internal structures, where endosymbiotic bacteria are responsible for digestion. These worms are capable of completely decaying a whole juvenile skeleton (containing less calcified bone or fat then adults) in one decade. Impressive, no? Just wait…
All of these structures and endosymbionts only apply to female Osedax. The males are microscopic dwarves that live inside of the females, as simple sperm reservoirs. The Osedax larvae that are found on a skeleton develop as female, but if they find other females, they can get absorbed and develop as pedomorphic males, meaning they only develop sexually and not fully morphologically, retaining larval characteristics. Each female can absorb hundreds of males, which is believed to be a successful reproductive strategy.

Image 4 – Whale bone densely colonized by Osedax in Monterey Canyon, California, USA (left) and Osedax japonicus specimen with a yellow-colored root. Photos by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, USA, and Norio Miyamoto, from Japan Agency form Marine-Earth Science and Technology, respectively.

Organisms like Osedax show that whale carcasses are not only an oasis of life in the deep ocean, but also showcase uniquely evolved and specialized life forms. However, are the carcasses sustaining similar communities in all of the ocean basins? Or, like in hydrothermal vents, does each basin sustain communities with different evolutionary histories? This kind of question is still very hard to answer because practically all of the natural and placed carcasses have been studied in the Northern Pacific.
Only in 2010 was a natural carcass discovered on the seafloor near Antarctica, and, more recently in 2013, in the Southwest Atlantic off of the Brazilian coast. The latter is currently being studied by Brazilian and Japanese researchers, and is the topic of my Master's project at the University of São Paulo. This represents the first whale sink community to be studied in all of the deep Atlantic. The results of the research are beginning to emerge, reinforcing some previous hypotheses and explaining even more about the functioning of various ecological processes.
Many questions are still to be answered, and many more will be generated in the future. These extraordinary communities, not known 30 years ago, are a bottomless source of surprises!


References, links and videos:
Smith, C.R., Kukert, H., Wheatcroft, R.A, Jumars, P.A., Deming, J.W. (1989) Vent fauna on whale remais. Nature, 341. Pp 27-28.
Rouse, G.W., Goffredi, S.K., Vrijenhoek, R.C. (2004) Osedax: Bone-Eating Marine Worms with Dwarf Males. Science, 305.Pp 668-671.
Smith, C.R., Glover, A.G., Treude, T., Higgs, N.D., Amon, D.J. (2015) Whale-Fall Ecosystems: Recent Insights into Ecology, Paleoecology, and Evolution. Annual Review of Marine Science, 7. Pp 571-596.










About Joan Manel Alfaro Lucas:



A biologist from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, I did a one year internship at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, which allowed me, among other things, to get to know Brazil and learn Portuguese. I'm passionate about the ecology of deep ocean communities, especially chemosynthetic ones. I did a Masters at the Oceanographic Institute of the University of São Paulo, where I had the opportunity to study the first whale carcass discovered in the deep Atlantic ocean. Other than that, I have experience in oceanographic cruises, sailed 2800 nautical miles across the southwest Atlantic, sampling, sorting and identifying benthic invertebrates, stable isotope analysis, and using the R language in ecological research.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ugly animals need love too!

Written by: Jana M. del Favero


Illustration by: Joana Ho

   What do a dolphin, a sea turtle, and panda bear have in common? They are considered flag species, meaning they are charismatic species that can draw public attention to a conservationist cause. This concept emerged in the 1980s as a way to ensure conservation of biodiversity. Since it is not possible to finance protection projects for all species of an area, we raise the status of a charismatic species as a means of supporting its overall ecosystem. When I was an intern for the Tamar Project, I was used to receive tourists at the Ubatuba base to talk about sea turtles. While teaching them about sea turtles, I ended up also teaching them about the fish that they consumed and the damages garbage and automobile use in spawning areas caused, etc. The main message always went through several other messages. Whenever we talk about the importance of preserving the flag species, we also talk about the importance of preserving the entire ecosystem.

   Although it is an efficient concept (who does not think about the Panda Bear when thinking about WWF?), its application requires caution. By prioritizing flag species, you run the risk of not preserving those who really need to be preserved. It is important to remember that several species are threatened with extinction. Some scientists even argue that we are going through the sixth major extinction of the Earth (episodes in which large numbers of species go extinct in a short period of time).

    According to scientists all prior mass extinctions were caused by natural catastrophes, such as the fall of a meteorite. However, WE (human beings) are causing the sixth extinction! Paradoxically, although WE are causing the sixth extinction, WE are also the ones that can prevent it from being more tragic.

   So, it was in thinking about the protection of a group of endangered and "disadvantaged" animals that the biologist Simon Watt created the “Ugly Animal Preservation Society.” No, that is not a type, this idea was quite contrary to the use of traditional flag species. According to the creator, it is not fair that the panda gets all of the attention.

   The innovative idea of Simon Watt did not stop with the creation of the society. To raise funds and save aesthetically unprivileged species, he and a group of artists ventured into the United Kingdom, performing shows and stand up comedy, in which each artist featured an ugly animal. At the end of each evening, people could vote on what should be the mascot of society.

 Among some strong competition of the weirdest frogs, salamanders, snails and insects, the winning mascot was a fish, the Blobfish. Besides being ugly, this fish, scientifically called Psychrolutes marcidus, inhabits the deep waters (between 600 and 1200 meters deep) of South Australia, including Tasmania. They have no swim bladder, only the minimum number of bones needed for survival, and their body has a gelatinous consistency. But these characteristics all contribute to being able to live in their high-pressure environment, with the water around them as their main structural support.

   But I confess that I found the vote somewhat unfair. Knowing that every 10 meters that we dive to find the Blobfish, the pressure increases by 1 atm. We would meet the ugly creature in an environment with more than 60 atm of pressure pushing down on us, and our organs would crush and we would probably look like paste (actually we would have died long before!). Meanwhile the Blobfish would look like an "ordinary" fish and not the gelatinous creature we thought so ugly while we analyzed it on the Earth’s surface, at only 1 atm.

Cover of the book written by Simon Watt with an image of the mascot of the "Society of Preservation of Ugly Animals," the Blobfish.

   Another marine fish that competed as the ugliest animal was the European eel (scientific name: Anguilla anguilla). Although it is critically endangered and it looks more like a snake than a fish, I believe that this species should not even be in this competition because they are wonderful! The European eel is a euryhaline fish, which withstands great variation of salinity, and is catdromic, meaning it grows in rivers and spawns at sea. In addition, it has leptocephalus larvae, which look beautiful, last about 3 years, and reach up to 8 cm in length!

European eel: adult (left) and larva (right)


   So, have I been able to convince you that the European eel and the Blobfish are not ugly, but that they do need our attention and protection?

   In your opinion, which endangered animal is ugly and should be preserved?

About the “Ugly Animal Preservation Society” (Come in and laugh a lot watching the videos): http://uglyanimalsoc.com

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Why algae are not plants

By Gabrielle Souza


   When we walk along the beach and see seaweed, we associate it with terrestrial plants. Afterall, scientific evidence strongly suggests that plants evolved from green algae in the Paleozoic Era. However, they are quite quite different in many ways. Algae, like terrestrial plants, are eukaryotic organisms (the cell has several organelles including a nucleus surrounded by a membrane) and photosynthetic autotrophs (produce their own food through photosynthesis). 

   The word algae comes from Latin and means "marine plant," but you must be aware that not all algae live in the water. Some live in terrestrial environments associated with fungi, in a mutually beneficial relationship, or symbiosis, forming so-called lichens.

   One thing is important to keep in mind: while the plants belong to a single Kingdom, the Plantae, the term "algae" encompasses many distinct taxonomic groups in the Kingdom Protista, including the Stramenopila (brown algae and diatoms), Rodophyta (red algae) and Chlorophyta (green algae) (Nybakken & Bertness, 2005). 

  Thus, due to the complexity and constant taxonomic changes of these organisms, we will not go into details of classification of this polyphyletic group (they do not share a common ancestor) called "algae," but we will focus on its general characteristics.

Lichen on a granite rock of the Serra do Mar, Joinville City, Santa Catarina State, Brazil


   Algae have several forms of stuctural organization. They can be found in unicellular forms such as diatoms and dinoflagellates, or as multicellular filamentous forms. They can form colonies that are physically united, and their organization can be defined between amorphous colonies that do not have defined numbers of cells, or those that present complex organization in number of cells and defined forms. They can also take planktonic or benthic forms (learn more about these forms here: http://batepapocomnetuno.blogspot.com.br/2016/11/divisoes-oceanograficas.html). The stalk may be divided into cells, or it may not and instead take a tubular shape (cenocytic). Among these various forms, it is common to hear the term “microalgae” when they are microscopic, and “macroalgae” when they are visible to the naked eye.

   Usually, the macroalgae are confused with plants. One of the main characteristics that differentiates macroalgae from plants is their structure. They may appear similar, but the macroalgae do not have specialized organs and tissues, and they are not vascularized. They also do not have the capacity to form a structure with flowers, leaves, roots or a stem. The multicellular algae just have a stalk to support its filaments.


Multicellular algae; B) Unicellular algae (dinoflagellate); C) Multicellular algae; D) Unicellular algae


   Now, what about underwater plants? Are all of those green things in the aquarium algae? No! An example of an aquatic plant is Elodea, a common waterweed which is widely used to decorate aquariums and artificial aquatic environments. This plant belongs to the group of Angiosperms, of the Kingdom Plantae. 

 This kingdom is comprised of vascular and avascular photosynthetic organisms, that is, with or without the presence of vessels that are responsible for the conduction of mineral salts and water. Vascularization is also responsible for the presence or absence of the reproductive parts; in the case of Angiosperms these reproductive parts generate flowers, leaves and fruit. 

   The leaves of the submerged aquatic plants are generally very thin and stubby, allowing them to support turbulence and oscillations of the water, without tearing. The leaves of the aquatic plants also have a permeable surface, which aids in internal circulation of the air.

Elodea (scientific names: Egeria densa, Egeria brasiliensis)


Related posts






References

NYBAKKEN, J.W. & BERTNESS, M. D. 2005. Marine Biology: an ecological approach (6º ed.)

MIGOTTO, Alvaro E.. Dinoflagelado: fitoplâncton, dic, unicelular, planctônico, cebimar-usp. Cifonauta- Banco de Imagens de Biologia Marinha. Disponível em: <http://cifonauta.cebimar.usp.br/photo/11554/>. Acesso em: 06 dez. 2016.

LAS ALGAS EUCARIOTAS. Disponível em: <http://recursos.cnice.mec.es/biosfera/alumno/1bachillerato/organis/contenidos10.htm>. Acesso em: 06 dez. 2016.

PATTERSON, David J.. Algae: Protists with Chloroplasts. Disponível em: <http://tolweb.org/accessory/Algae:_Protists_with_Chloroplasts?acc_id=52>. Acesso em: 06 dez. 2016

AGUIAR, Celio. As Algas marinhas bentônicas. Projeto Ilhas do Rio. Disponível em: <http://maradentro.org.br/ilhasrj/livro/as-algas-marinhas-bentonicas>. Acesso em: 06 dez. 2016.


SIENA, Ádamo. Elódea: Alga? Não! Planta aquática. Disponível em: <http://ead.hemocentro.fmrp.usp.br/joomla/index.php/publicacoes/ciencia-em-foco/210-elodea-alga-nao-planta-aquatica>. Acesso em: 06 dez. 2016.

AOYAMA, Elisa Mitsuko; MAZZONI-VIVEIROS, Solange Cristina. ADAPTAÇÕES ESTRUTURAIS DAS PLANTAS AO AMBIENTE. 2006. 17 f. Tese (Doutorado) - Curso de Programa de Pós Graduação em Biodiversidade Vegetal e Meio Ambiente, Instituto de BotÂnica – Ibt, São Paulo, 2006. Disponível em: <http://www.biodiversidade.pgibt.ibot.sp.gov.br/Web/pdf/Adaptacoes_estruturais_das_Plantas_ao_Ambiente_Elisa_Aoyama.pdf>. Acesso em: 16 dez. 2016.





Thursday, August 10, 2017

Seagrass: canaries of the sea

By Juliana Imenis, Juliana Nascimento, Larissa de Araujo, Natalia Pirani, Otto Muller and Paula Keshia


In the early 20th century, coal miners frequently carried caged canaries to work. The little birds saved many miners' lives because their sudden death or sickness indicated a possible gas leak. An alarm would sound and the mine would be evacuated.
We could say the canaries were bioindicators, or organisms that indicate a possible environmental problem through their behavior or health status. Today, we no longer have a need to sacrifice the canaries because we have electronic indicators that can tell us about possible mine disasters.


Like the canary, some organisms are extremely sensitive to pollution and habitat alterations; their populations tend to diminish or even vanish quickly after environmental modifications take place. Other organisms may be very tolerant to poor environmental conditions and can sometimes have a population boom in areas where the conditions would be inadequate to the majority of other species. One of these bioindicators is the marine phanerogam, also known as marine seagrass.


Image by Joana Ho

This particular group of plants grow on the sea floor, have elongated straight leaves, and subterraneous stalks, called rhizomes. Seagrass may live completely immersed in water, and they are found in coastal waters of nearly every continent. Despite being known as “seagrass”, this group is closer to the lily and ginger families than grass (Figure 1). They are an important part of the diet of manatees and sea turtles, and they are used as habitat by many other sea animals (Figure 2), including commercially important fish and crustaceans. Although difficult to quantify, seagrasses have a large aggregated commercial value, estimated to be up to 2 million dollars a year. They also play an important role in sequestering carbon into their biomass and sediment, thus decreasing the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere. This helps promote nutrient recycling, coastal protection, and improve overall water quality.

Figure 1 – Morphology and occurrence in the natural environment of genera Halophila. Despite being known as “seagrass,” this group is closer to the lily and ginger families than grass. Adapted from Sarah Lardizabal schematics. http://www.reefkeeping.com/issues/2006-04/sl/


Figure 2 – Many animals visit the seagrass fields searching for food. http://portuguese.alertdiver.com/Manguezais-e-Angiospermas-Marinhas


In Brazil, despite controversial information and the necessity of more genetic studies to differentiate the species correctly, there are so far, five known species of seagrass (Figure 3): Halodule wrightii Ascherson; Halodule emarginata Hartog; Halophila baillonii Ascherson; Halophila decipiens Ostenfeld and Rupia maritima Linnaeus. Seagrass are considered to be great environmental quality indicators, because they are very sensitive to light and nutrient availability variations.


Global climate change has many impacts on the marine environment, including the rise of global average sea surface temperatures, variations in pH (ocean acidification), and alterations of ocean currents. These are some of the rapid changes in marine environment that have been seen by researchers, and their consequences are still little known. There are many factors involved in the interactions between environmental variables and biological communities, making overall consequences hard to forecast (Figure 4).

Figura 2.jpg
Figure 3 – Identification of seagrass species can be controversial, but nowadays it is defined that there are five species along the Brazilian coast. Marques & Creed 2008.

Figure 4 – Many studies have been developed in this rich environment, but more research is needed if their importance and probable environmental changes are to be considered. http://portuguese.alertdiver.com/Manguezais-e-Angiospermas-Marinhas

Seagrass need specific environmental conditions, like low turbidity and high incidence of light. They are suffering local reduction and in some places completely vanishing, indicating that the anthropegenic environmental changes are happening fast, not giving the organisms enough time to respond to the new conditions. The capacity of ecosystems to respond to impact and return/maintain their original conditions is called resilience.


Although the degree and type of impact on seagrass may vary with geography, some hypothesis were generated by the Benthic Habitat Monitoring Network (ReBentos) about how climate change may affect them: (1) the increased concentration of nutrients, given the increased quantity of rain, may cause changes in the community composition, favoring the occurrence of opportunistic species, which can be damaging for the local species; (2) changes in sea surface temperature can affect tropical species, favoring the extension and displacement of their occurrence limits towards higher latitudes; (3) extreme events, like floods and storms, may cause reduction or disappearance of seagrass in a quick and abrupt way; (4) the increased quantity of continental matter in estuaries may affect the abundance and composition of the communities, due to the increased turbidity and salinity changes. On the other hand, the reduction of rain and/or increased penetration of seawater into continental waters could increase or alter the estuarine seagrass' area of occupation; and finally (5) days or week-long heat waves, derived from external events, may reduce or extinguish fields in shallow areas.


As an example of evidences that support these hypothesis, we can mention a study published by the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology by Ricardo Coutinho and Ulrich Seeliger, that, in 1984, observed that the species R. maritima, although tolerant with eutrophicated conditions, was shadowed by epiphytes and macroalgae that grew due to an excess of nutrients in the water. Those organisms tangle in this seagrass species, causing reduction on its photosynthetic rates and increasing their drag, facilitating their detachment when subjected to waves and currents. Another example is the study published in the Marine Ecology by Frederick T. Short and collaborators, that in 2006 observed the reduction of H. hrightii through the movement of sediment, caused by stronger and more frequent storms, which buried the fields of seagrass.


Therefore, as mentioned by other authors, we can consider seagrass as the canaries of the sea, important in diagnosing the environment's health in response to global climate change. Certainly, the loss of these ecosystems will bring not only economic loss, but also the loss of biodiversity, a factor that is much more valuable and difficult to measure.


To know more:


COPERTINO, M.S.; CREED, J.C.; MAGALHÃES, K.M.; BARROS, K.V.S.; LANARI, M.O.; ARÉVALO, P.R.; HORTA, P.A. (2015). Monitoramento dos fundos vegetados submersos (pradarias submersas). IN: TURRA, A.; DENADAI, M. R.. Protocolos de campo para o monitoramento de habitats bentônicos costeiros - ReBentos, cap. 2, p. 17-47. São Paulo: Instituto Oceanográfico da Universidade de São Paulo. Disponível em: <http://www.producao.usp.br/handle/BDPI/48874>. Acesso em: 04 nov. 2015.


MARQUES, L. V.; CREED, J. C.(2008). Biologia e ecologia das fanerógamas marinhas do Brasil. Oecologia Brasiliensis, v. 12, n. 2, p. 315 - 331.


MCKENZIE, L.(2008). Seagrass Educators Handbook. Cairns: Seagrass Watch-HQ. Disponível em: <http://www.seagrasswatch.org/Info_centre/education/Seagrass_Educators_Handbook.pdf>. Acesso em: 30 out. 2015.

MCKENZIE, L (2009). Coastal Canaries. Seagrass Watch, v.39, p. 2-4. Disponível em: <http://www.seagrasswatch.org/seagrass.html>. Acesso em: 03 nov. 2015.






Juliana Imenis Barradas, CCNH-UFABC, PhD student in the postgraduate program in Evolution and Diversity, biologist, Master in Zoology (UFPB). juliana.imenis@ufabc.edu.br, http://lattes.cnpq.br/4843331968538355






Larissa de Araujo Kawabe, CCNH-UFABC, master graduate student of in the postgraduate program in Evolution and Diversity, biologist. http://lattes.cnpq.br/7133427266626274






Juliana Nascimento Silva, CECS-UFABC, undergrad in Environmental and Urban Engineering (UFABC) http://lattes.cnpq.br/5975285955317582







Paula Keshia Rosa Silva, CCNH-UFABC, mestranda em Evolução e Diversidade (UFABC), http://lattes.cnpq.br/9557245804556650







Natalia Pirani Ghilardi-Lopes, CCNH-UFABC, professora adjunta, bióloga, doutora em Botânica (USP), http://lattes.cnpq.br/8457066927181345







Otto Müller Patrão de Oliveira, CCNH-UFABC, professor adjunto, biólogo, doutor em Zoologia (USP), http://lattes.cnpq.br/7304237172635774






Thursday, July 6, 2017

From Oceanographer to Programmer

By Letícia Portella

Original post here



   This week I was asked to tell a little about how I became programmer (or at least, I’m in the process). I wrote this text to tell a little bit more about my story.
   Let’s start from the beginning: I am oceanographer graduated from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (Brazil) in December 2013. Well, only that is usually enough to scare people. Oceanowhat?
   Oceanography is beautiful and exciting. I learned many interesting things and I fell in love with some disciplines that were frightening. To begin with, we studied calculus, physics, etc. When I started working in the area, I hesitated between geological and physical oceanography until 2011 when I entered an internship at a Navy Research Institute and, finely, I decided by Physical Oceanography, which is the area closest to the exact sciences.
   It is usual for oceanographers to work with matrices and arrays, thus it is very common to use a software called MATLAB. Therefore, during the college course I ended up learning a bit of MATLAB which is similar to a programming language with logic loops, conditionals, etc.
   However, when I joined the Navy, I met two oceanographers working with Python. Python? What is it? We had several discussions about how MATLAB was a paid software and at the university we were using a pirate version, which was not cool nor legal, right? Surfing this this wave, they started telling me about how Python would be the future of oceanography, thanks to its flexibility, ease application and, furthermore, it was free! Cool. Let’s learn, right?
   And so I had my first contact with a real programming language, so to say. My colleagues were very smart, you know why? Every day they challenged me to do something new. “I doubt you can read this txt”, “Now do this activity with the least possible amount of lines,” and so on. I thought it was fantastic! How they were creative! Later on I found out it was all online. OK!
   In the meantime I also had contact with Linux, remote access, Ubuntu, terminals, etc. A new world was opened to me, and it was very interesting!
   Coming back from internship, I fell into the real world: nobody was working with Python, nobody used Ubuntu / Linux and things can’t be changed. Okay, then, back to MATLAB. Things quite demotivating were that I had to learn by myself, become stuck with my doubts and, moreover, to learn something that people saw as useless (for our area).
   At the end of college I started working with a multinational which deals with port and coastal engineering. MATLAB and Windows full-time. But I’m stubborn; I started using Python wherever I could. Although away from further studies, I liked the language and wanted to continue learning (provided that I could do something useful). So I used Python to automate the production of maps in a software called ArcGIS. Afterwards I developed a software to calculate the size of a ship based on international tables and I even entered a brief adventure in the Web with Django.
   All of a sudden, I decided to enroll myself in a master degree course and I decided that all pre and post processing data would be made with Python. Also I chose a numerical model that could only be used in Linux environment. This time I actually challenged myself. Thus, I decided to get out of laziness and start learning! Even if I would have to do it by myself (But it was not so!). A very close friend helped me a lot and so I’ve been learning more and enjoying it more and more.
   Floripa Python group was formed by this time. I asked a friend to go with me in the first meeting because I was afraid and ashamed of not knowing enough. But he canceled at the last minute! I didn’t give up and attended the meeting anyway. I was the only girl in that first meeting, and as things can get worse, the discussions were exclusively about web. I did not understand anything, but I thought that was a fantastic world.
   I decided not to go to the next meetings since I was scared by the contents and because I did not understand anything. But then, the “magic” of the Python community happened. The boys noticed my problem and called a person to give a speech that was more “like me” (less web and more data analysis). When the lecture was going to happen, many of them sent me warning messages saying that I should go. Fabulous, right? After that, I engaged myself and actually started to get involved with the organization of SciPy Latin America 2016, Python Brazil 12 and mainly with Pyladies. In addition, Anitas (a group to empower women in technology and entrepreneurship) was being structured and I met some wonderful and inspiring women. Finally, in 6 months everything changed and I had completely changed my life

   And so I realized that I liked that. Very much. I loved programming Github, Python, Ubuntu, etc. I could spend hours studying it. As I got involved, I realized it could be a second option. However I did what most of us do: I thought I would never get into it. “I’m not good enough”, “I could never get fully involved in this,” etc. I really thought that. We know we usually think little of ourselves. But even thinking that way, I did not stop trying to learn and getting involved. That was not my goal! Then, suddenly I decided to show to that web folks what an oceanographer was doing attending to those meetings. After all, I programmed? Why? So I presented some of my master degree’s results, what kind of data I was working with, and a little video with a tidal wave being propagated which I achieved with my numerical model.
   On the same day, the project manager of a company told me that there was a vacancy for a backend position in Python at the company. At the end of the evening I found myself next to her and decided to learn more about the job she had mentioned and we started talking. In the end I said: “very nice, but unfortunately I cannot apply for this job.” She asked me why and I said — I know Python, but this work is in a completely different area. And then I got an answer I did not expect to hear: “No problem, what you do is as complex as we do, come talk to us in another moment!”
   And I did so. Thus, in three weeks my life was changed, I quitted my job to become a backend developer, where I am now entering my third week.
   When I told people that I was changing area, I was expecting to hear “you’re crazy!” But that was not what happened … I got a lot of support and encouragement, especially from the nearest people who endured my insecurities throughout the process from the first conversation until my first day at the new job.
   I will not lie. The night before my first day I panic. I cried a lot. What was I doing? I wouldn’t make it! It was crazy! What I had was not rational, it was purely emotional and out of control. I called who I knew would calm me down and I just threw myself into the next day, with a huge fear and a strong desire to make it work.
   So I would like to say a few things I learned in the process …
   The first thing I learned is that I did not make this change without fear and uncertainty. Those feelings can’t stop us of doing things ever! I received several comments saying that my courage was inspiring and I was an example. I do not consider myself as an example of anything! You can’t imagine how scared I was! But then I realized that people that are examples to us also are afraid and that’s no problem. Do it with fear, but do it anyway!
   The second thing is: do things with passion. Find out what you like and do it! Apart of having further prospects, even if you think you do not know and you won’t get there. The most important is to love something.
   And last but not least: surround yourself with and make sure you appreciate people who support you. I would never have achieved so much or would have courage to change my life if I wouldn’t count on the support of numberless angels, as from the first ones who challenged me to the present ones who support and continue supporting me.
   This is a place where I decided to share my story and try to help girls who want to learn programming. Come in, make yourself comfortable and I hope you fall in love as much as I do.



Letícia Portella. Oceanographer, passionate developer and addicted reader