Have you ever just sat by the shore and watched the waves pass? Have you ever just stared at the water while boating? At first glance, it looks like clear water. Then a closer look you might see a few specks. But have you ever considered what those few specks are? It might surprise you, when I say this but they are in fact organisms. The tiny specks that you may have seen, are actually plankton like seen in the picture.
Now you might ask what are plankton? Plankton is a diverse group of drifters that live in the water. They can’t swim against the current so just drift along the waves. They are an essential part of the ocean ecosystem as they are the base of the food chain and a food source for many large organisms.
When I say plankton are diverse I mean it. Plankton that are like plants are called phytoplankton and those like animals are called zooplankton. Zooplankton are stepping stones for the growth of larger organisms. Although not all plankton are microscopic, take jellyfish as an example; these animals sure wouldn’t go unnoticed.
My Biology 326 class had a chance to go out to the Bamfield Marine Science Centre. While there we had the opportunity to do a plankton tow. Now you might ask what is a plankton tow? A plankton tow allows us to collect plankton samples. But how exactly do we collect these samples?
The plankton were caught using a fine mesh net. Once boating in the water, the mesh net was attached to a weight and dropped into the water. The boat was then driven around allowing the mesh net to trail behind. After 5 minutes, we slowly brought the net back up and the plankton sample was collected. Samples were collected from both shallow and deep water to see if there were any differences present.
We then brought the samples to the lab and viewed them under a dissecting microscope. It was amazing to see those specs turn into such lively organisms. We spent our time identifying the plankton and then compared what we found in shallow and deep water.
Not to our surprise many of the plankton were found in both deep and shallow water, while others were specific. We only found phytoplankton in shallow water but managed to find jellyfish larva in the deep water sample.
Plankton are an important of the ecosystem and have a major impact on it as they are the base of the food chain. A small disturbance to plankton can magnify to a major disturbance higher in the food chain. In a sense, plankton can be used to determine how healthy an ecosystem is.
The next time you look into the ocean remember that there is more than what meets the eye.
To learn more about plankton, check out the links below: