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How Important are Phytoplankton and Seaweed in Our Ecosystem?

Growing up, we learned that oxygen comes from trees and other organisms that produce food through the process of photosynthesis. But do you know how important marine photosythesizers are?

According to research, more than half of the amount of oxygen humans breath actually come from the ocean. This is thanks to our marine photosynthesizers that use both water and carbon dioxide to make food and release oxygen.

How Do Marine Plants Help?

Whenever we breathe, we take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Plants need the carbon dioxide to produce food, and they release oxygen as their waste. The cycle goes on and on, and it’s such a beautiful thing. But because of the constant abuse our forests are getting from illegal loggers and urbanization, you’d have to wonder where does our oxygen come from?

Oxygen makes up of 21% of the atmosphere. Did you know that most of that oxygen actually came from the ocean and not the rain forests?

More than half of the oxygen we breath comes from marine photosyntesizers. Plants like seaweed and phytoplankton that absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the air in order for them to make food for themselves. (Source: Ocean Smithsonian)

How Long Have These Plants Existed?

According to researchers marine photosynthesizers have been around for billions of years. Based on fossil records, land plants have been around for 470 million years. This was even before dinosaurs roamed the earth. Billions of years before that, the ocean was already producing oxygen which tells us that marine plants have been around since then. (Source: Ocean Smithsonian)

What is the Oldest Known Marine Plant?

The oldest fossil of a marine plant would be a cyanobacterium. They are tiny blue-green plants that are still present today and easily found all over the world. They have been working on producing oxygen for about 3.5 billion years.

The Prochlorococcus is a type of cyanobacteria that is noted to be the most abundant in the planet. It is responsible to producing about 20% of the oxygen present in our atmosphere. (Source: Ocean Smithsonian)

How Much Oxygen Does Marine Plants Make?

Studies show that about 50 to 80% of the oxygen in our atmosphere is produced from the ocean. But it is also important to remember that even if the ocean does produce this much oxygen, this is also consumed by marine life.

Aside from marine animals using oxygen for cellular respiration, oxygen is also consumed when dead plants and animals decay. This becomes problematic when algal blooms die. Their decomposition used oxygen faster than replenishing it.

Often times this phenomenon causes low oxygen concentrations that cannot support any marine life. They are called dead zones.

This is precisely why organizations like the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science or NOAA’s conduct extensive research in forecasting algal blooms and hypoxia to prevent harm to the ecosystem. (Source: Ocean Service)

Can All Marine Plants Produce Oxygen?

In order for photosynthesis to occur and for plants to be able to produce oxygen, they must have access to sunlight. All marine plants that are within the so-called photic zone are capable of producing oxygen.

The photic zone is the layer at the top of the ocean which is illuminated by the sun’s rays. It extends to about 650 feet below the surface of the ocean. (Source: Ocean Smithsonian)

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