What is happening to All the Phytoplankton?

18  April 2016

 

What is happening to All the Phytoplankton

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The Indian Ocean has always been a place where larger sea mammals enjoy feasting on phytoplankton. But in the western region of the Indian Ocean, so many of the tiny microbes have disappeared that the western half of this vast ocean is threatening to turn into an ecological desert.

The loss of these tiny marine plants threatens the food source of several species of marine life imperative to the ocean’s ecology. It is not unlike an entire sub-continent running out of all food in its supermarkets with no sign of restocking ever taking place.

In the human world, such a devastating shortage to the food chain might spell a social breakdown of Armageddon proportions. And within the animal and marine life of this region, a similar thing might occur.

Research in the region has established that the phytoplankton levels fell by around a third since the turn of the century. At this rate we could see all phytoplankton in the region gone by 2050. The bottom of the food chain may well be not missed by most but upset this part of the chain and it will inevitably work its way up to the top – and guess who sits at the top?

Humans have fished for tuna for centuries and since 1950 the tuna haul has diminished by as much as 90 per cent in some places. Similar declines could be happening elsewhere but nobody has yet decided to study these declines. If such a decline is happening in the western Indian Ocean, it makes sense to think it must be happening elsewhere.

During the 20th century, the levels of plankton have gone down in the long term. Surface temperatures meanwhile have gone up in the ocean by as much as 50 per cent. In previous studies, phytoplankton levels actually seemed to be on the increase.

However, those studies were taken over a few years, rather than several decades or even a century. Had such studies taken a long term approach it might have discovered the tiny marine plants were diminishing at an alarming rate overall.

Studies in the warm waters of the coast of eastern Africa have not been able to take place between 2000 and 2010 because of the threat of piracy from Somalian kidnappers. Presently the seas in this area are well policed these studies can now go ahead and research vessels are once more about to find out the devastation and its impact on the environment.