To Define Plankton, Think: “Ocean Food Bank”

define plankton
A screenshot snip from Deep Look’s plankton video. To access the video, go to the screenshot at the end.

THE PLANKTON IS ONE OF THE KEYSTONES OF THE OCEAN FOOD CHAIN. In fact, it’s one of the most important elements of life in the sea. And, yet, every time I mention the word, seek to talk about plankton, discuss plankton, define plankton, I can hear eyes roll all across Planet Earth.

True, plankton doesn’t have the same excitement attached to it as, say, a celebrity punching a shark on You-Know-What Week. On the other hand, it’s about a zillion times more important. So pay attention. It’s important.


After all, as discussed in “The Plankton: The Soup of Life,” Nobody goes underwater looking for plankton. Nobody except corals, gorgonians, sea anemones, baleen whales, whale sharks, sponges, brittlestars, a lot of kinds of fish and many other denizens of the deep. In fact, to the things we divers go underwater to look at, the plankton are a big, big part of the staff of life, the dinner pail, the feed bucket, their nutritional sustenance.

Along with algae – yes, algae! – plankton are one of the most important food sources for an array of animals found on the reef.


Here’s a video on plankton from the estimable folks at PBS’ Deep Look program. It’s well worth viewing. Actually, I think“The Plankton: The Soup of Life”  has more detail, but this has the videomatic advantage of showing more stuff in action.

define plankton
Click on this screenshot to access the video.


There’s phytoplankton – essentially, forms of algae that survive by converting solar energy into nutritional glucose. And there’s zooplankton – animal organisms that survive by consuming other plankton. Actually, the true wild west of the ocean is at the plankton level. It’s a dog-eat-dog, or thing-eat-thing, environment.


And the next time You-Know-What Week comes along, remember that the plankton makes everything possible.

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