The SEAPLEX researchers have finished their intensive gyre sampling and are heading to Newport, Oregon. However, while working long hours with little sleep, some of the researchers and crew members wrote haikus! They would love it if you would vote for your favorites.
Hello again outside world! This is Darcy Taniguchi, writing to you as we head back from the gyre to Newport, Oregon. The intensive stations are completed, which means no more whirl-wind sampling extravaganzas. However, that doesn’t mean our work out here is done, especially for those of us on the vampire shift (the night watch) collecting water from the CTD and the on-board flow-through system. Why bother, you might ask? It’s just clear sea water after all—no large animals nor pieces of macrodebris. But living in each unassuming water sample is a tiny world teeming with life. The microscopic organisms filling this world are often out of sight and thus out of mind. However, in high concentrations, they can be readily visible to humans. For instance, the White Cliffs of Dover are made from the remains of one type of organism called a coccolithophore. Also, some of the red tides which you many have seen forming along coastlines are the result of large numbers of dinoflagellates.
These and other organisms in the microbial community serve some very important roles in the ocean and the world at large. This community consists of tiny single-celled microbes, like bacteria and protists, less than half a millimeter in length. Some of these cells, the cyanobacteria and phytoplankton, are the main photosynthesizers of the sea, meaning they use carbon dioxide, water, and light to produce sugars and oxygen, just like trees and shrubs on land. Indeed, the majority of the oxygen produced fromphotosynthesis in the ocean comes from these very small cells. This breathable oxygen gas they produce can then be used by other organisms, like fish and krill. Furthermore, the microbes’ ability to use the sun’s light for energy places them at the base of the food web. So, just like grass being food for rabbits, which in turn are eaten by foxes, phytoplankton can be food for zooplankton, which can then be consumed by fish and eventually people.
The microbial community also plays a part in the huge topic of global climate change. For example, carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas. As mentioned earlier, these single-celled organisms are the major photosynthesizers and thus can take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and use it to produce sugars. Therefore, they play a part in regulating the amount of greenhouse gas there is in the air.
These are just a few examples to illustrate how important the microbial community is for both the ocean and the world. Even though they usually cannot be seen by the naked eye does not mean we should forget about them and ignore their existence. So, the next time you cup some sea water in your hands, realize that you hold within your grasp organisms which are crucial for sustaining life as we know it.
SEAPLEX researchers (left to right) Miriam Goldstein, Jesse Powell, and Chelsea Rochman examine a stuffed toy dog after it was collected along with ghost net debris, on Aug. 15, 2009. Photo taken by Jim Leichter.
A barnacle found on a piece of marine debris provided a home for a scale worm (bottom) and a sponge.