Undercurrent by Diane Masters will be in the IMAS exhibition space at our Waterfront Building from 1 February until 30 March 2017.
Exhibition Introduction by Claire Davies and Dr Ruth Eriksen
Have you ever thought of what the microscopic, drifting, primary producers that the ocean is teeming with have done for you? These are the phytoplankton, and they are grazed by animals known as zooplankton. All ocean life and we humans, depend on plankton because they are the start of the food chain.
Plankton dominates the biomass of the oceans. Phytoplankton perform nearly half of the photosynthesis on Earth, fixing carbon dioxide and producing half of the oxygen we breathe. The most common zooplankton, the copepods, outnumber insects as the most abundant animals on Earth. The abundance and success of all marine life is dependent on the health of the plankton. They are our oceanic "canaries in the coal mine". Plankton also impacts human health directly. Some phytoplankton species are toxic and form large harmful algal blooms, contaminating shellfish and causing poisoning and death in humans. Some zooplankton are venomous, such as the box jellyfish and lrukandji species, causing severe pain and death and beach closures in Northern Australia.
Plankton influence the pace and extent of climate change. Many phytoplankton species produce chemicals that influence rain and cloud patterns. Phytoplankton remove carbon from the ocean surface via photosynthesis. Zooplankton graze the phytoplankton and then export the carbon as faecal pellets or carcasses which sink to the ocean floor and lock the carbon from the atmosphere for thousands to millions of years - it would be much warmer if this carbon had not been taken up by the ocean. Over geological time, the accumulation of carbon from plankton on the seafloor has formed the oil and natural gas deposits we use today. So tread lightly.