More than two decades ago, when Elizabeth Turner was still a graduate student studying fossilized microbial reefs, she hammered out hundreds of lemon-sized rocks from weathered cliff faces in Canada’s Northwest Territories. She hauled her rocks back to the lab, sawed them into 30-micron-thick slivers—about half the diameter of human hair—and scrutinized her handiwork under a microscope. Only in about five of the translucent slices, she found a sea of slender squiggles that looked nothing like the microbes she was after.
Get to know the crown of thorns starfish, which grows to two feet wide and wields toxic spines that will definitely ruin your day.
The oceans have been acting weird lately. While some sea creatures have boomed (octopuses), others have busted (humpback whales), and yet others literally melted into goo (starfish). Whether the causes are El Niño or the “Blob” or ultimately climate change, these events point to just how interconnected and poorly understood the ocean ecosystem is—how little of it observable by humans. A marine biologist who studies whales once likened finding a beached one to finding a specimen of a “space alien.” The sea is dark and full of mysteries.