Guest post: ‘OCEAN DRIFTERS – a secret world beneath the waves’

Today, I am very excited to share with you a guest post by Dr Richard Kirby, who recently produced an amazingly beautiful film on plankton (linked at the very bottom of this post, a MUST SEE!)

Dr Richard Kirby – the Plankton Pundit @planktonpundit, tells us why it is important not to overlook the plankton:

Plankton are the ocean’s drifters. The plankton is an amazing diversity of life forms that get their collective name from the Greek word Planktos, which means wanderer or drifter, since what unites all these creatures is that none can swim against a flow of water; they all drift at the mercy of the ocean currents. The plankton are incredibly important. They bring life to our seas through the plankton food web and the marine food chain it supports, and they play a major role in the Earth’s carbon cycle to influence our climate and weather. While the majority of the plankton are microscopic and so hidden from view, they also include the largest invertebrates on Earth – the jellyfish.

The plankton live mainly at the sea’s sunlit surface. Here, the microscopic phytoplankton begin the plankton food web underpinning life in the sea. These plant-like cells photosynthesise, using the energy in sunlight to combine carbon dioxide with water to create sugar and oxygen. In this way the phytoplankton begin the marine food chain. The phytoplankton are grazed by the herbivorous zooplankton (animal plankton) that in turn are eaten by other carnivorous zooplankton to create the plankton food web that supports life in the sea. Without the plankton the oceans would be a barren wilderness, there would be no fish, sharks or whales, no crabs, mussels, starfish or worms on the seabed or upon the seashore (many bottom-dwelling creatures begin their life in the plankton). Without the marine food chain there would also be no seabirds in the sky, and no penguins or polar bears on the ice.

The plankton do much more than just support the marine food web, however. As mentioned above, the plankton also play a central role in the global carbon cycle. You can find out how they do this by watching Richard’s remarkable Ocean Drifters film (see below) that is narrated by Sir David Attenborough. This short film not only reveals the incredible beauty of the plankton and their amazing and intriguing adaptations to life at the surface of the sea, but it describes how these tiny creatures influence our climate to have a global impact far greater than their size would suggest. The film also importantly, reveals how we are currently influencing the plankton with ramifications for the marine food chain and the ecology of the seas.

To find out more, visit Richard’s website

Dr Richard Kirby is also the leader of the global Secchi Disk project, the world-wide citizen science project engaging sailors in a study of the phytoplankton.

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