Day 278: Going Deeper

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October 4, 2012 by Alex Hoekstra

Kickstarter is an interesting place.  There are a tremendous amount of projects with focus in arts and literature in their infinite forms, from film to comic books and everything in between.  Entrepreneurship, too, seems to take form out of the cheers and dollars of the masses.  One thing, though, that I wish we could see more of on Kickstarter – one thing I hope will garner more attention, fascination and excitement from the crowds that have seen fit to bring video games and vlogs to life in new ways never before possible – is scientific exploration.

The way science is done, now more than ever before, is inexorably bound to a funding system that is highly selective and highly prohibitive.  Tax dollars for research are precious and the keepers of the coffers are cannot help but uphold strict agendas and directives.  There’s very little wiggle room – very little room for exploration and chance encounters with truth.  It’s hard to write a grant for spontaneous Eureka! moments.  It’s functionally limiting, and I’m not a lover of such limits.  I think hardly any good scientist is.  That’s why today’s scientific project is turning to Kickstarter in order to finance an investigation that’s below the surface of the traditional funding infrastructure’s radar.  It’s up to us to see this program forward.  It’s up to us to make a difference.  We are being given an opportunity to take part in discovery with practical and substantial implications.  I urge you to join me and the dozens of others taking part in this endeavor to solve a critical mystery beneath the waves and save a species in the midst of disaster.  Back it before October 12.

A marine epidemic called “small orange band” (SOB) disease of the common yet iconic “barrel” reef sponge, Xestospongia muta, re-emerged on South Florida sponges in April 2012. Gross SOB symptoms appeared as bleaching, decaying and crumbling of the affected sponge tissues, followed by rapid death of the whole or most of the sponge individual. The photo below shows how the sponge was almost completely “dissolved” by this phenomenon. During this outbreak, anecdotal reports and video surveys (like those shown above) carried out by found that 15- 20% of local large barrel sponges died or were adversely affected. The SOB condition has been witnessed periodically, and has been histologically described in scientific studies. However, the question remains “What is the cause of this blight and destruction?”  YET TO DATE, NO CLEAR CAUSE OR PATHOGEN HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED. This condition could appear again, but with further research on the possible cause we could be better prepared to handle it.


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