Why do Plankton Bloom?

Phytoplankton live in an extremely uncertain world.  The ocean is very spatially and temporally heterogenous – it can be thought of as a 3-D patchwork quilt, with fairly distinct bodies of water adjacent to, but not fully mixing with, one another. 

Many plankton have adopted a boom-and-bust mode of population growth – reproduce rapidly until nutrient resources are depleted, then create dormant stages that will await new, more ideal conditions in the future.

This is a very different strategy than larger animals (like humans) must employ to assure their populations never deplete their natural resource base – lacking a dormant phase ready to await future ideal living conditions.

The problem is that we have added a nearly infinite nutrient supply to the system, promoting far too much growth and thus super high densities. These blooms are super charged, and the toxins they produce – perhaps created to reduce competition from other plankton species – become so concentrated that they wipe out many other living things.

What’s Next……

Bacteria will colonize the dead algal cells and the dead biomass from the other creatures killed by the toxins.  These bacteria will likely multiply so rapidly as they feed on (decompose) the dead biomass, that they deplete the waters and sediments of oxygen, killing animals that somehow escaped the red-tide toxins.

Yes, more mass kills are likely to come as a result of this initial biological carnage. These mass kills a result of anoxic conditions from bacteria consuming the large amounts of dead organic matter killed by the plankton toxins.

Excessive nutrients, sustained, super-charged plankton blooms, excessive levels of toxins, mass mortality, mass decomposition, more death from hypoxia, more decomposition. The decomposition releasing the nutrients back into the system. The circle of life – super sized by humans.

How Does It End?

We don’t know. We are actively crafting this narrative – seemingly without a plan.

But if left to the way we have managed it thus far, not in a way that we, who love our oceans and the communities we live in; the communities the oceans support, want it to.

I think we can all see the Armageddon of an ocean super-sized by human indifference and feigned incompetence.

Oceans of death – the 21st century human legacy.

We are good at conservation in the United States. We have a history of recognizing massive environmental problems and fixing them.

It feels like we have recognized a problem – now let’s fix it.

As you read this, you have, at your fingertips, the ability to communicate to those who represent you and demand they represent you – in a way that you dictate.

Guide change. Demand our government assures that we have a healthy natural environment upon which, and with which we can thrive, grow and prosper.

Demand that we can leave natural resources to our children, and them to theirs.

We cannot watch this news cycle, and then move on, indifferent to the vast changes we are quietly creating below the surface. Only to scream and cry, and pay attention when more dolphins, manatees and giant fish wash dead upon our shores.

We cannot consistently blame others and pretend we are without power.

Stop pretending that how we conduct our personal lives doesn’t matter. Start by acknowledging that we all are a part of the problem, and we can also be the solution.

Here's a list of representatives to contact:


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