Plankton. You may not know them. You may not care about them. But they play a vital role in our planet. Plankton are small microscopic organisms resembling shrimp. There are two main types- zooplankton and phytoplankton, each containing thousands of species. Plankton play a large role in the ocean ecosystem. Millions of fish, whales, dolphins, crabs, seabirds, and just about everything else in the ocean feed on them every single day.

Humans pollute 40 billion tons of CO2 in the air annually and even more with methane and other emissions. By 2050, the human population will use 45% more water, 35% more food, and 60% more energy. With the exponential population growth of the human race, nothing is contributing to making Earth a healthy habitat for these tiny one celled critters.

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Plankton produce 70% of Earth’s oxygen, much more than trees and shrubs, but these microscopic creatures are already being impacted by world wide climate change. Millikan are vanishing every year. Plankton were once viewed from planes and satellites tinting miles and miles of sea and ocean dark green. Now, these ‘masses of green’ are limited to a small number near North Atlantic Coasts. With so many plankton dying off, there could be a mass extinction from a trophic cascade. Brian R. Silliman & Christine Angeli, define trophic cascades as ‘powerful indirect interactions that can control entire ecosystems’. But Trophic Cascades only occur when predators limit the density. If you eliminate plankton from the ocean, everything- almost every species will die or be affected in some way or another.

Chickens, cows, fish, birds, cats, mice, otters, caribou- will be all gone. Because of plankton missing. But these are estimates. Maybe plankton will recover. Maybe. There have been several massive trophic cascades in the past, and Earth has recovered before. Plankton was never affected in those cascades. But now- it is. I guess I could speak for everyone in determining who the predator actually is: humans. Our cellphones, cars, trains, stoves, cigarettes, fires, factories, and power plants are just some of the many contributing factors that humans cause.

65 millions years ago, Plankton were reduced to the numbers they are in 2015. But it took them 3 million years to recover to what they’ve been in 1975. That’s … insane.

Most humans don’t care about plankton, if they don’t devote their life to the study of climate change or ocean wildlife. For Belmont citizens, for Boston citizens, for Massachusetts citizens, for the whole nation- the truth is this: most of us don’t realize the impact we’re having on plankton and subsequently the rest of the environment. I hypothesize that less than 10 percent of the whole school actively works to help the environment by recycling, eating without microwaves, composting,  and walking instead of driving, but we should all try to change this. We all need to try to clean our carbon footprints to make animals and generations of people thrive just a bit longer.

 

Sources: Silliman, B. R. & Angelini, C. (2012) Trophic Cascades Across Diverse Plant Ecosystems. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):44

 

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