The Importance of Plankton

Whale Shark Facts - Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras (copyright - www.aboututila.com)

Whale Shark Facts – Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras (copyright – http://www.aboututila.com)

Can you see it?…

Not the whaleshark of course! THE PLANKTON! No?…

That’s normal, plankton (phytoplankton and zooplankton) are tiny drifting plants and animals.

They are vital components of the marine food chains. Plankton are a crucial source of food for many large aquatic organisms such as fish and whales. Plankton communities reflect the effects of water quality and cannot isolate themselves as oysters do by closing their shells in adverse conditions. Plankton are effectively our aquatic ‘canaries-in-a-cage’ – they accumulate over days the effects of hourly changes in water quality (Rissik and Suthers, 2009).

Copyright - Marc Roberts (permaculturenews.org)

Copyright – Marc Roberts (permaculturenews.org)

With phyloplankton levels crashing and the whole marine food chain going belly-up, perhaps marine life should follow this whale’s example, and be a bit more pro-active.

By integrating various human & environmental inputs, plankton provide a benchmark for monitoring the synergistic effects of urbanisation and climate change (Kunz and Richardson, 2006). With shorter winters and longer summers, the seasonality of plankton and fisheries will each change, but not in the same way. Our collective challenge, as described by Rissik & Suthers (2009) is to determine what the shits in plankton communities will imply. What adaptations by plankton will affect the marine environment, from water quality to fisheries?

While some organisms will have difficulties extracting essential nutrients from the water column (i.e. iron, nitrogen, phosphorus), some will struggle to maintain their metabolism and/or the integrity of their carbonate skeleton (internal and external). Added to that, carbon dioxide will most likely stimulate plant growth creating overgrowth and reducing plant biodiversity.

Repeated phytoplankton blooms (some can be toxic) and reduced metabolism in zooplankton and other organisms, coupled together could have dramatic long term effects.

The ability of planktonic calcifying organisms to calcify is also on the line with their individual contribution to the marine carbonate cycle. Pteropods, for example, are the principal source of the second most common polymorph of calcium carbonate in surface waters: aragonite (the first being calcite).

Plankton from space (Copyright - A World of Images - www.seos-project.eu)

Plankton from space (Copyright – A World of Images – http://www.seos-project.eu)

Plankton is essential to the marine environment. Without it, nothing could live is the Ocean. The Ocean covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and is one of the planet’s most distinguishing characteristics. What a disaster it would be if it were to become lifeless because of human activity and pollution…

Cartoon (Copyright - The Living Ocean - www.thelivingocean.net)

Cartoon (Copyright – The Living Ocean – http://www.thelivingocean.net)

plankton? (Copyright - L.M. Roger)

plankton? (Copyright – L.M. Roger)

 

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2 thoughts on “The Importance of Plankton

  1. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to see a great blog like this one today..

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