Jun 12

What is Phytoplankton?

By Jessica Shilling

After spending a year as a PADI dive instructor in Playa del Carmen Jessica Shilling went on to get a degree in Graphic Design in Mexico City. She currently resides in Mexico, travels and dives when possible, and is author/illustrator of the children's book series, "Fins and Tales", an underwater themed series aimed at educating children about the importance and beauty of our oceans.

Phytoplankton are microscopic organisms which contain chlorophyll and require sunlight in order to live and grow. Most phytoplankton are buoyant and float in the upper layers of the ocean, where sunlight penetrates the water. Phytoplankton provide food for a large variety of sea creatures including shrimp, whales, snails, and jellyfish.

diver

Jeffrey Lombardo; director of the Ocean Awareness community, expert  diver, aquatic cinematographer, television producer, and passionate ocean advocate has spent years working on various projects aimed to help people understand and appreciate the natural world and the upmost importance of protecting our oceans.

In 1990 Jeffrey led a research project to study the effect of phytoplankton on CO2 levels in salt water. The purpose of the study was to identify the rate at which the phytoplankton removed the CO2 from the water and how much oxygen was produced in the process. The result of the project was that phytoplankton could remove all of the CO2 in its containing water in less than 24 hours if exposed to full sunlight. Ultimately, the photosynthetic by product oxygen was produced in similar quantities than the levels of CO2 at the beginning of the experiment. Proving the fact that phytoplankton is tremendously effective at removing dissolved CO2 in sea water.

 

Phytoplankton Education with Jeffrey Lombardo

Q. Jeffrey, How do Phytoplankton live?
A. The ability of phytoplankton to photosynthesize provides this creature with a stable and abundant source of sustenance. 

Q. Why is phytoplankton important? 
A. Phytoplankton is important to the health of the ocean in several different ways. Most importantly, phytoplankton is the basis for the food chain and it is consumed by billions of larger organisms. Also, phytoplankton’s ability to photosynthesize means it is a major component in the carbon cycle on earth. Phytoplankton converts billions of tons of carbon dioxide into oxygen whenever the sun is shining.

Q. How do phytoplankton affect global climate?
A. The phytoplankton in our oceans rivals the photosynthetic abilities of even the great Boreal forests of the world. By converting CO2 into useable components for the ocean to use and oxygen for terrestrial creatures to breathe, the phytoplankton hold an important role in controlling global warming.                                                                                

Q. What percentage of marine plants is phytoplankton?
A. Phytoplankton is by far the most numerous form of marine plant. However, it far less sophisticated than most other marine plants in that it is microscopic and can reproduce up to 100 million of itself in just a month.

Q. Are phytoplankton in trouble due to human pollution?  
A. Human activities on earth have greatly affected the life cycle and the ocean’s levels of phytoplankton. Especially, the addition of mass quantities of CO2 into the ocean has upset the balance of other nutrients phytoplankton need to propagate and flourish. In the past 50 years, phytoplankton levels have dropped by almost 40% in most oceanic bodies. This massive reduction in phytoplankton is due mainly to pollution finding its way into the ocean by means of the air and water.

Photo Credit: Photo used from Google Images

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