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Jump into the world of the ocean drifter!

One day, the waves bring you closer to shore. Then, suddenly, a crab appears next to you and puts you and many of your companions in its mouth! In this huge, diverse ecosystem, crabs are protected by their hard shells, but they also have their predators – like this Asian small-clawed otter. It looks cute, but hungry...and it wants to have crab for dinner! This is just a small glimpse into part of the underwater food chain – food chains like these are found all over the world.

 
© WWF-Hong Kong                                                          
     

One day, the waves bring you closer to shore. Then, suddenly, a crab appears next to you and puts you and many of your companions in its mouth! In this huge, diverse ecosystem, crabs are protected by their hard shells, but they also have their predators – like this Asian small-clawed otter. It looks cute, but hungry...and it wants to have crab for dinner! This is just a small glimpse into part of the underwater food chain – food chains like these are found all over the world.
 
But in this particular food chain, who are “you”? Today, you are a plankter – a single unit of plankton, and a single small building block of the vast marine food chain. You are one of billions and billions of microscopic organisms drifting or floating in the sea or in freshwater ecosystems. To be specific, you and your companions are phytoplankton, a plant-type plankton. Your counterparts are animal-like plankton known as zooplankton.

Although human beings might think that they are the greatest creatures on Earth, although they have all but forgotten you, it’s important to remember that there are trillions of you supporting the underwater ecosystems that human beings rely on so much. You may be tiny – hardly visible some of the time – but you are nevertheless an incredible and extremely important creature. Just look at all your amazing facts!
  1. “Plankton” is Greek for “wanderer” or “drifter”. As plankton cannot swim against water currents, they therefore drift with the currents.
  2. There can be as many as one million single-celled plankton in just one drop of seawater!
  3. Some plankton can move up and down in the water column as much as several hundred metres each day.
  4. Although most plankton are small in size, a few plankton species can be larger than human beings – giant jellyfish, for example.
  5. About half the oxygen we breathe on Earth is created through the photosynthesis activities of phytoplankton!
  6. Common seafood species like fish, crab, shrimp, lobster and sea urchins go through a planktonic stage when they are larvae.
  7. Some of the fossil fuels buried in the Earth’s crust were created by the decomposition of the dead bodies of ancient plankton species.
Plankton is the base of the marine food web and most marine creatures cannot survive without plankton. For example, whale sharks – the largest fish species on the planet – rely on plankton as their major food source for their entire lifetime. But in spite of their huge importance, the smallest organism on Earth faces a number of man-made threats. Ironically, the impacts we have on plankton may well end up affecting human health and well being.
 
This academic year, WWF-Hong Kong will be launching a cutting-edge programme which will aim to discover the importance of plankton to Hong Kong’s marine biodiversity. Now is your chance to take advantage of a rare opportunity: if you and your students want to learn more about plankton and to see the big picture through one of the world’s smallest creatures, please email our education department: education@wwf.org.hk

There will also be a briefing session of the programme, please click HERE (Chinese version only) for details and enrollment.

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