Cristina Mittermeier @cristinamittermeier avatarCristina Mittermeier

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Elkhorn coral, an endangered species, has vanished from much of the Caribbean. But here, in the Gardens of the Queen, it is one of many flourishing species. Named for the antler-like shape of its colonies, elkhorn coral are important reef-building engineers. As I swam past this keystone species illuminated by sun rays piercing the clear water, the health of this region confirmed that establishing marine protected areas are the pathway to dynamic and resilient ecosystems.

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Do you ever wonder what lies beneath the thin blue line that is the surface of the ocean, the curtain that separates what we see and what we know, from what we cannot see? As part of @Sea_Legacy’s celebration of Coral Reef Awareness Week, I want to take you below the surface to meet the vibrant marine life of God’s Pocket, British Columbia. Here, the currents rip at 7-10 knots, which makes for very challenging diving, but grants an even sweeter reward of sea anemones, soft corals, and starfish. As warming waters disturb entire underwater cities of this kind, I wonder, will these sights be here for our children to enjoy one day?

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Although much of the Caribbean has seen the loss of once-healthy coral reefs, the Gardens of the Queen shows us that there are still places where it is possible, with the right protective measures, to maintain a thriving coral ecosystem. Like miniature Christmas trees, these tube fanworms have made their home on a brain coral. They poke their gills out of their burrow to find food. They reminded me of how beautiful and important our ocean is. Check out @PaulNicklen’s feed to see a video of these tube fanworms opening up.

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Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir announced that her government will launch a full review of the whaling industry this fall. This news comes at the heels of news that Hvalur hf, the sole fin whaling company in Iceland, illegally slaughtered an endangered blue whale - the first in half a century. In addition to this atrocious event, twenty-six endangered fin whales have been killed this season in this archaic industry. We must continue to keep the pressure on the Icelandic Government in the wake of this latest news; your voices are being heard. Click the link in my bio to keep telling the Icelandic government to #StopIcelandWhaling.
@Sea_Legacy @bluespherefoundation @oceanicpreservationsociety
This photographic work was performed under the authorization n.0 XX-ORAC-2018 issued by the Government, on February 22, 2018.

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Beneath the thin blue line of Cuba's Gardens of the Queen lies an underwater jungle. Dip below the surface and you will find sights and sounds of an almost forgotten world, where some of healthiest of populations of marine life can be found. Species like reef sharks, silky sharks, groupers, and sardines saturate these protected waters whose coral reef ecosystem thrives with limited human contact. On this dive, my eyes were drawn to the beauty of a fire coral, aptly named for the burns it can inflict on skin if you touch it, as it reflects itself on the underside of the shallow water’s surface.

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In a world where sharks are demonized and misunderstood, here in the Gardens of the Queen, they are revered and an indication that 20+ years of applied marine conservation science has been successful. Studies have documented sharks traveling more than 5,500 miles from Cuba to as far north as New Jersey, and then back again. Scientific data like this was a catalyst for Cuba’s "National Plan of Action" with a purpose of conserving and sustaining vulnerable shark populations in 2015. Happy Shark Awareness Day!

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Every year around late February or early March, tens of thousands of harp seals make their way to the ice surrounding the Îles de la Madeleine to give birth to their pups. When harp seals are just born they are covered with a beautiful, fluffy, white coat. After a couple of weeks, when they are ready to enter the water, their coat starts changing to a silvery grey. This pup will spend the summer months exploring, growing, and learning the ways of the Arctic world. The horrific and controversial annual hunt of baby harp seals has dominated the attention of the environmental community. In recent years, however, the lack of a stable platform of sea ice on which to give birth has become a more serious and enduring threat for the survival of the species. #stopclimatechange

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Adelie penguins, and all other Antarctic wildlife, are getting a better chance thanks to a groundbreaking agreement by the krill fishing industry. I have been working with @Sea_Legacy on a campaign to create protections in the Antarctic Peninsula that provide resilience to wildlife. It is awesome to see our efforts and those of so many others pay off. On Monday, after years of negotiations, a majority of the fishing industry formally agreed to stop hauling in krill from around the peninsula's troubled penguin colonies. The industry also committed to helping set up a network of marine protected areas in coming years to better protect marine animals. This is a good day for our planet! #ShareifyouCare
With @paulnicklen @andy_mann @ladzinski @craigwelch @rodolfowerner #PhotographersforAntarctica #wildlifematters #penguin

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I feel such a personal responsibility to do everything in my power to make sure the oceans remain healthy and abundant. From the smallest to the largest, every creature relies on a healthy ocean - including us. Every other breath we take comes from the sea. What do you think we can do to reverse climate change for wildlife like the bowhead whale? It is hard to believe that some of these bowhead whales were born at the beginning of the industrial revolution, have survived through decades of whaling - which brought populations to near extinction - only to face the overwhelming threat of climate change and the disappearance of sea ice. Click the link in my bio to learn how @Sea_Legacy is #TurningTheTide.

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Traveling by dog sled is an extraordinary, unparalleled experience. Pushing through the snow amidst a blizzard, where nothing but white can be seen and nothing can be heard but the wind whipping around you, you realize the importance of an expert and resilient team of dogs. As these canines waited eagerly for the next run, they showed me more of their boundless, lively energy.

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David Serkoak - also known to his kin as “Hiquaq” - is the first Inuit drummer to reach the North Pole. Tiptoe-dancing over a melting ice-scape, he raised his voice and drummed for joy to be standing at the top of the world. It was an honour to travel to the northernmost point of our planet with this Inuk elder, and to hear from his own voice, how self-determination is the best tool indigenous communities have as they face a fast-changing planet.

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Visiting my homeland and slipping into the sea to observe whale sharks has been a wonderful experience to share with my partner @paulnicklen, seen here swimming above one of these dotted leviathans a couple of years ago. Whale shark tourism is popular in Mexico with hundreds of these massive fish gathering in warm waters to feed on plankton and fish eggs. They engulf this tiny menu with their enormous, gaping mouths while swimming close to the water's surface. Though life seems blissfully simple when we are in the water together, I know that our relationship with these docile creatures is fragile and complex. This week we are in Isla Mujeres to document the benefits and threats posed by this popular activity. We have much work to do in the future, to find ways to balance commercial interests like diving and fishing, with the long term well-being of these wildly popular whale sharks.

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