The story stays the same for the top or bottom when it comes to the diversity of organisms living in the ocean. When someone asks you what lives in the ocean, you might immediately think of the larger organisms such as sharks or whales that live deeper in the water. I encourage you to think smaller, in fact way smaller, think microscopic. Are you stumped now? These small creatures in the ocean play an important role yet, most of the time they will go unnoticed. I think it’s time I let you in on the secret life of plankton. Plankton are the unspoken stars of thriving ocean ecosystems and I just want to give the credit where it’s due.
Often plankton are described as the specks scattered in the ocean but they are much more than that. Take a look for yourself at this picture.
Now, you probably understand what I am talking about. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and when your looking at plankton, you will surely be mesmerized. Plankton can be put into two major groups, phytoplankton and zooplankton. Phytoplankton rely on photosynthesis thus can be seen occupying the top surface of the ocean. While zooplankton, which are animal like, are found deeper but still near the surface of the ocean. We have established that they are tiny but the role they play in aquatic ecosystems is huge. Plankton are responsible for the primary production in the ocean. They form the solid foundation of aquatic food chains. Plankton are indicators of health of an ecosystem and detrimental effects can magnify within the food chain and you can read more about this here.
Where did my love for plankton start? It all started with a trip to Bamfield with my Biology 326 class. Actually, it was when we got the opportunity to do a plankton tow where the real magic started. For starters, you might be wondering what in the world is a plankton tow.
Here let me break it down for you; it involves a fine mesh net being lowered into the water for a couple of minutes and then you transfer the organisms into a jar. When I observed the water being poured into the jar, all I could see was just little dots in the water but under the microscope, it was a whole another story. It was as if I was seeing these tiny specks transforming before my very eyes. Here’s a picture below to put things into perspective.
We started from the bottom but now we are here at the top of the ocean with plankton. We stayed true to our word. Here’s a video about plankton but I must say proceed with caution as beauty of these organisms may astonish you.