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Plankton. Are the solutions we are coming up with to save the planet also taking into account the importance and impact on Plankton?

Is it important to include in our solutions the impact we may have on Plankton? Why?
If what I saw in th series put together by Richard Hammond, Invisible Worlds, is correct about the importance of Plankton in our entire life-cycle, then YES, we do need to be very very aware and very careful.

What do you think?

Is it just another complicator in the issues of environment?
Is it a beat-up?
Is it an over-reaction?
Is it something that will make life even harder for innovators and inventors so should be 'bottom-drawed', so to speak?
Is it real and present and a big concern that needs to be included as major part of ALL research into the environment?

This is not meant to be a beat up on Big Oil companies, but no doubt there will be comment.

  • Mar 21 2011: For me, concern over plankton/algae (while respecting their intrinsic value as successful products of natural selections) should, for practical human purposes, be directed at how these organisms can be manipulated (I don't mean genetically) to increase/restock fish populations which provide a significant portion of the world's population a source of protein.

    The biggest concerns for the ocean/algae would be in the areas of increasing water temperature, salinity, ph, and various toxicity. I believe algae/plankton are most at risk from man-made pollution and the effects of global warming. Of these, it seems that global warming is the area most in need of attention from the perspective of the oceans. Global warming, in addition to changing the temperature of the oceans, appears to have several additional negative feed back loops such as putting more carbon dioxide into the air causing an increase in acidity in the form of carbonic acid. Further, global warming is affecting the oceans by increasing the melting of ice/runoff thereby diluting the salinity content.

    In theory, an increase in the supply of algae/plankton should eventually lead to greater numbers of fish (like Tuna) at top of the food chain. I do believe we should, cautiously, be encouraging algae/plankton blooms by adding more nutrients into the ocean. I would also suggest in addition to focusing on algae and plankton that we consider coral which often provides safety for juvenile fish. Accordingly, I'd recommend (in addition to Iron as another poster noted) that we begin with adding Calcium. Most coral and shellfish are composed of calcium carbonate. By adding calcium we'd also potential tie up a small portion of the additional carbon that is being released by human activity. Another solution might be to have an international mandate to make plastics more biodegradable by including molecules or additives that would break down plastics into various hydrocarbons that algae could eat.
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    Mar 21 2011: Plankton is a fundamental of life on this planet and because most of us are landlubbers we seldom think of it. It makes sense to me that as a primary source of oxygen and of food for the smallest and lowest on the food chain it should be given resources and support to survive and help us all survive.This is one of the reasons I love TED conversations. Someone speaks up and says: 'what about the plankton-shouldn't we be considering that too' and people feel- thank God you are here or we would have missed that point. Glad you're here to remind us of the small but important stuff Peter!
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    Mar 20 2011: could there be a program (funded under the mandate of the kyoto protocol) that for each country which has industrial / co2 pollution, a sizable amount of algae be grown artifically in tanks and released in the deep seas, to counter balance the co2? Its not that hard to do this.
    • Mar 20 2011: Hi Qazi,
      Algae don't need to be released in oceans in order to store CO2. I am not sure we understand enough about oceans so as to dump even more stuff into them artificially, even if we think it is for the best...
      There are already projects discussed to seed iron and other nutrients in the ocean itself so as to foster plankton growth. It also sounds to me like a not really thought-through geoengineering idea.
      Another type of projects has been to feed CO2 into algae grown in tanks onshore and then that biomass is either dried and used in the construction industry, or used as a fuel.
      What I think would work best is to let nature work its own way, such as what Sylvia Earle, Enric Sala and so many on Mission Blue Voyage suggest: creating and protecting ocean reserves.
      Here's a link to Eric's talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/enric_sala.html
      And to Sylvia Earle's TED wish: http://www.tedprize.org/sylvia-earle/
  • Mar 16 2011: Thanks John and Harald.. exactly what I thought.. Not sure I agree with it being beyond our comprehension, but I certainly agree with Fascinating.

    It might be something we don't know just now, but as people gather and share more and more information and raise awareness, like that series, the closer we come to understanding those fascinating links.

    The more we are prompted to think through all the possible impacts of a solution to the microscopic through to the largest object, potentially the better the outcomes. The real challenge is in finding ways to cover the whole gamut without having to take a prohibitive amount of time, and without glossing over issues for expedience in relation to ROI.
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    Mar 16 2011: Agree. The true complexity is beyond our comprehension and truly fascinating!
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    Mar 16 2011: I don't really get your question. But here it is goes. By plankton are you specifically reffering to algae? If so, it is important to know that a large sum of the oxygen we breath is a product of photosynthesis from aquatic algae. It is also important to know that plankton (which are generally small organisms) provide a food source for higher trophic levels. If you whipe out these organisms you will have a bottom-up affect which results in the organisms that feed on plankton (ex. algae) to be whiped out (if there food source is whiped out). This would have terrible affects on food webs and it would lead to a food web colapse.

    It is not an overreaction to be concerned about these issues and it is very important to perserve plankton (but primarily primary producers such as algae) as many other organisms in higher trophic levels feed on them.
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      Mar 16 2011: I agree. What is important to understand is that it is pointless to focus just on one group of organisms or another. Ecosystems are complex structure and each and every organism in the system has a purpose.
      In other words, what has to be done is to protect the diversity of species in our eco systems (unfortunately we are not doing a very good job with that)