WHAT ARE PLANKTON?
🌊 The term ”plankton” stems from the Greek word “planktos” which means “drifter”. This name is used because they are too small to swim against ocean currents, hence just drifting with ocean tides and currents
🌊 Plankton lives in both sweet-and salt-water which makes them the most abundant organisms in our oceans.
🌊 There are two main types of Plankton, the plant-like phytoplankton, and animal-like zooplankton
Phytoplankton is microscopic organisms that can be smaller in diameter than a strand of human hair and often found near the ocean surface. Phytoplankton is vital to Earth’s carbon cycle as they generate about 50% of our atmosphere's oxygen, as much per year as all land plants, making them one of the world’s most important producers of oxygen. They do this through photosynthesis as they contain chlorophyll, allowing them to take up carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, and by processing light energy, releases oxygen back into the atmosphere.
Phytoplankton can sometimes bloom, which often occurs because of increased heat making the Phytoplankton reproduce at a rapid rate, which gives off a green/blue colour in the water.
Zooplankton is micro/small-sized animals, such as larvae, snails, worms, and krill. They are seen as the base of the ocean food chain, as they themselves eat phytoplankton, and themselves being eaten by virtually all animals in the ocean, either indirectly through the food chain or directly such as blue whales eating krill.
Plankton is facing critical challenges as a result of global warming and other environmental threats such as plastic pollution. Phytoplankton is sensitive to changes in their environment and scientists have found that that increasing ocean temperature threatens plankton health as it diminishes some of their key nutrients that it needs to thrive and that increased level of acidity for example (caused by global warming), can lead to some plankton becoming very to toxic.
However, studies have also shown that despite the changes that are currently being observed in our oceans, plankton communities have been resilient even in nutrient-deficient environments.
Zooplankton is severely affected by plastic pollution in our oceans as it confuses their ordinary food, phytoplankton, with microplastics. This is a vital mistake that the many other ocean animal species also make as they digest plastic instead of Zooplankton, with plastic making its way up the food chain.
We are dependant on these small organisms for the air we breathe and the health of our oceans. They are tiny environmental heroes with a massive impact on Earth and we all need to do our best to keep them safe by reducing our environmental footprint.
Written by the Nature Unite team