Deutsch Welle, Europe’s top ‘international’ television news service reports on the dire state of ocean plankton
“Plankton is the basis for the entire marine food web – and it is under threat. From the Mediterranean to the Pacific, animals have been struggling to survive, due apparently to changes with plankton.”
Here we offer some expert comments and annotations (patches) via this English translation of their striking report and urgent call for action.
DW reports (April 2016): Food chains represent the greatest interdependency within the webs of life. The marine food chain, for instance, is essential for oceans – and depends on plankton. But environmental changes and human activities may be threatening plankton – and therefore all marine animals. (
Editors note: Indeed the most favoured explanation for the collapse of plankton that make up vital ocean pastures is the impact of high and rising CO2 which at once starves the ocean of vital nutrients while acidifying ocean waters such that microscopic life, the larva of fish and shellfish as well as plankton cannot thrive.
According to a recent study, the biomass of sardines and anchovies has been decreasing at alarming rates in the Mediterranean Sea. At the same time, sea lions are struggling to forage on the coasts of California.
Ed note: Starving great sperm whales have washed ashore in unprecedented numbers this winter on the coast of Europe. To the south in Chile tens of thousands of squid were found starved to death. Seabirds everywhere are in a starvation crisis. All around the world countless cases of marine life starving at sea are being reported.
All of these cases have shed light on how a single food chain element can affect all others.
While it is still unknown whether species will be able to adapt to new conditions, the marine food chain is already experiencing drastic changes – and plankton plays a crucial role across the board.
“If anything happens to the plankton, an immediate cascade effect will take place on the food chain,” Ivan Nagelkerken, a University of Adelaide’s biology professor, told DW.
Building blocks of life
Plankton are tiny aquatic organisms that drift through the sea, forming the basis of the marine food chain.
Ed note: Plankton live everywhere in the world’s oceans but just like on land the ocean also contains vital pastures where life is especially abundant. These ocean pastures are critical oases of life in what is a vast blue desert, the ocean pastures are in dramatic decline in all of the world’s seven seas. They are everywhere dependant on dust in the wind.
For plankton, both quantity and quality – in terms of nutriments – affect life up the food chain.
“If the quantity of plankton is the same but less nutritious, the next animals on the chain will be weaker and smaller,” Claire Saraux, researcher at the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea, explained to DW.
Saraux said it’s not easy to determine why plankton changes. “But there are three main possibilities: the water temperature, a lack of nutrients or pollution.”
A study published in “Global Change Biology” estimated than an increase in ocean temperature due to global warming would cause phytoplankton and zooplankton biomass to decrease by 6 percent and 11 percent, respectively, by the end of this century.
As Saraux explained, plankton consume nutriments that arrive to the sea from rivers and wind, so changes in natural currents – facilitated by climate change – may also cause a loss of quality of plankton.
The third option, pollution, is mainly a result of human activities.
Up the food chain
“The sardines and anchovies are eating new species of plankton with fewer calories,” Saraux said. “And this has probably caused the reduction of their biomass.”
Over the past 10 years, the biomass of sardines – that is, the combined weight of all the fish – in the Mediterranean Sea has decreased from 200,000 tons to less than 67,000 tons. The biomass of anchovies has decreased in same proportions.
The cause of this is the collapse of plankton, the grass of ocean pastures, everyone knows that pastures without grass can sustain few livestock. As Saraux explained, disappearance of the plankton species the fish had eaten in the past led the fish to eat other, less nutritious species of plankton.
According to her team’s finding, fish with limited energy reserves reproduce and die instead of growing larger and surviving longer.
The team was not surprised by this behavior. When animals feel in danger, they prefer to invest their energy in reproducing. As result, sardines and anchovies barely reach the age of 2, while they used to live up to 6 years.
The domino effect
Across the world from the Mediterranean Sea, on the Pacific Coast of California, sardines and anchovies have also declined over the past decade – as a result of less plankton, a study speculates. There, scientists have looked at how sea lions are struggling to forage.
Breeding females have had to go for lower-quality food, resulting in less and poorer food for their pups, reads a study published in March 2016 in “Royal Society Open Science.”
According to the scientists, although adult sea lions may survive under a low-calorie diet, their pups will probably not
The future of marine life in question
Nagelkerken said that theoretically, species can adapt – “as they have done over millions of years.”
In previous oceanic fluctuations, species were able to adapt gradually, over time, much more gradual periods of change measured in millenia not decades! In the course of time those that had beneficial adaptations could reproduce and pass on their resiliency to next generations.
“But changes nowadays are so fast, that they may not have enough time,” Nagelkerken added.
For Saraux, determining the cause behind plankton variation is key to forecasting future scenarios. “If natural changes in wind currents (and dust) are the reason, the situation may become stable again,” she explained.
“But if human activities like pollution and global warming are found to be the main problem, the situation will worsen. Pollutants like CO2 persist for very long time in ecosystems”– and Saraux believes that even if we start now strictly acting to counter climate change, the damage may already be irreversible.
“It may be too late to stop what is causing the plankton to change.”
We must replenish, restore, and sustain our ocean pastures and their plankton before it is too late!
It is surprising that DW has left out of this very good article discussion of the proven and effective solution to the crisis plankton and starving sea life face. That is the restoration of ocean pastures the kind of regenerative sustainable ocean pasture stewardship that is akin to what has been practiced by mankind tending to pastures on land for ten thousand years. We can no longer simply ignore the vital ocean pastures that cover more than 70% of this blue planet!
Fortunately the methods and technology to do engage in regenerative ocean stewardship is now well in hand and proven. It is as simple as replenishing mineral rich natural rock dust to ocean pastures. This vital dust has gone missing from our oceans because modern mankind’s fossil fuel CO2 is turning the dry lands of this world green because high and rising CO2 in our air nourishes plant life on land.
More grass growing means less dust blowing, but that blowing dust is the most vital of all nutrients for ocean pasture life.
Proven Technology To The Rescue
Here’s what happens when a few tens of thousands of dollars of mineral rich dust is spread in infinitesimal amounts on a dying ocean pasture. The pasture blooms and grows an abundant crop of plankton that plankton feeds all of ocean life and in the case of my demonstration project grew hundreds of millions of additional salmon. IT JUST WORKS!
The cost of taking care of and regenerating the world’s ocean pastures is a trivial sum of money. A global program would be effective at a cost of only a few millions of dollars every year. Compare this with the trillions of dollars of new carbon taxes that are agreed to be imposed by the recent Paris Climate Change Accord.
By restoring ocean pastures the lions share of the world’s climate changing ocean killing CO2 can be immediately put to good use and turned into new ocean life. The savings for the world will be trillions every year, more than enough to pay the cost of tackling all of the other great crisis of humankind – hunger, disease, and more…
Join me the work to restore and replenish ocean pastures in all of the world’s seven seas has begun!