Interview with Sealife III: Plankton, What Makes Seawater ALIVE

illustration of plankton
Seawater is really a beautiful thing. It is what separates us from our terrestrial brethren, and this month we are going to take a closer look at what actually lives in the surrounding waters. In contrast to the “thin-ness” air, the greater density of seawater lends enough support to allow relatively large particles and organisms stay afloat – suspended in seawater - their whole life. The result is an entire population of plant and animal life forms, or the plankton community.

“Planktonic” organisms possess such limited powers of locomotion that they are at the mercy of the waves, tides, and currents. They are the food for all filter-feeding creatures, from the tiny clam all the way up to the enormous whale shark. Also, just as grasses, trees, and shrubs are responsible for oxygenating the air up there, it is the plant members of plankton that are responsible for maintaining all life in the sea by performing photosynthesis to release oxygen into the water.

Though small, I am certain even you land-lovers have heard of plankton or planktonic activity before. “Red Tides” are a perfect example. This dangerous water phenomenon is caused by tiny dinoflagellates suspended in seawater. These particular dinoflagellates are capable of secreting small amounts of organic compounds into the water, and some of these can be toxic. In the case of a “red tide,” a reddish-brown colored dinoflaggelate experiences a population explosion and becomes so abundant that the water turns dark red in color. The cumulative effect of all the toxins released together affects other surrounding organisms, causing mass mortality. Red Tides have been noted in the history of the Gulf, but are not frequently discussed in the history of the Caribbean.

If you can imagine how many more life forms would exist terrestrially if the air were able to support their weight, then you can imagine the seemingly infinite species of plants and animals we have under the sea. Stay tuned next month to hear the ‘skinny’ about yet another aquatic masterpiece!


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