October 5, 2012

Tiny New Species

Scientists are excited about the big discovery of a tiny species.

Maggie: They are some of the world’s smallest but most important creatures – plankton. Researchers now say they have discovered about a million-and-a-half species of plankton, double the number previously known. A research vessel called the Tara spent the past two-and-a-half years traveling 70,000 miles and collecting samples of seawater.

Plankton might not look like much. But it turns out, these microscopic organisms are actually crucial for people like you and me. Plankton are at the very bottom of the food chain. They provide food for bigger animals, which then get gobbled up by even bigger animals that eventually get eaten by humans.

These little plankton guys also help create the very air we breathe, generating oxygen by taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. But the researchers also made another unexpected and disappointing discovery – tiny shreds of plastic. In fact, scientists found more plastic than plankton. And what’s worse, much of this plastic was discovered in the Antarctic.

Chris Bowler: We thought that areas like the Antarctic were very pristine, being very isolated, far away from humanity. The fact that we found plastic debris down there, in terms of tens of thousands of pieces per square kilometer, is really very sad because this is going to hang around for thousands of years.

Maggie: Plastics make up 90% of the trash in the ocean. Scientists warn as plastics break down and decompose in the water, poisons can be released, and these toxins are ingested by the plankton.

So remember that food chain from earlier? Well, as plankton are eaten by bigger animals, they also consume those toxins that eventually reach humans.

Researchers are keeping a close eye on the state of the world’s oceans and the tiniest creatures in them. They say it’s those little plankton that might determine whether the planet can sustain life for the rest of its creatures, including us.

Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.


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