All ocean animals ultimately depend on something you can't even see from a boat or dock. Enormous numbers of tiny organisms drift along near the water's surface and form the very base of the marine food chain. Some of these "plankton" are plants; others are microscopic animals.
The plants, or phytoplankton, are the absolute bottom of the food chain. Like other plants, phytoplankton photosynthesize. Combining the sun's energy, carbon dioxide and water, they make their own food and at the same time release oxygen; in fact, half the oxygen on earth.
The animal form of plankton, called zooplankton, consists of tiny animals, the larval stage of bigger ones, and some that never grow larger than the head of a pin. These tiny creatures feed mostly on phytoplankton and bacteria, but some hunt other zooplankton. They are the second important link in the marine food chain.
Together these two types of plankton form the "floating meadows" of our oceans. Small fish feed on plankton and are in turn eaten by bigger fish, sea birds, seals and whales. We also eat many of the bigger fish, such as salmon and tuna, so we too rely on plankton for food.
Pollution and global warming threaten plankton, this essential part of the environment. Let's do our part to reduce carbon dioxide and protect this ecological community, the very basis of ocean animal life. To learn easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint visit: www.ecy.wa.gov, click on Climate Change and What You Can Do.