Photo: Pacific Underwater Calendar: Summer is here!

Phytoplankton are so small they are invisible to the naked eye, but blooms are visible from space. (credit: NASA)

By Kat Middleton, Western Region Science & Policy Intern

Summer's here!

Long hours of daylight at the end of June incite excitement both above and below Canada's Pacific coastal waters. From the tiniest to the largest creatures, from kelp to kayakers and from seabirds to sea snails, the season's abundant sun brings a pulse of life to this rich ecosystem.

The seasonal marine life boom begins at the bottom of the marine food web: Phytoplankton (microscopic marine plants, also known as algae) feed by photosynthesis—just like plants in your backyard. So small you can't see an individual with the naked eye, as a group they are visible from space, appearing as bright green and blue clouds throughout the ocean in spring and summer.

Animal plankton eat plant plankton

Microscopic phytoplankton are eaten by slightly larger zooplankton ("zoon" is Greek for "animal"—"phyto" is Greek for "plant"), including species of krill, larval fish and worms. Zooplankton are eaten by small schooling fish, such as Pacific herring, sand lance and sardines, which all rely on these tiny animals to survive. They, in turn, are eaten by predatory fish, dolphins, porpoises, seabirds and humpback whales. It's a classic food web.

As the days get longer and forage fish populations flourish, many humpback whales migrate from southern waters to the Pacific Northwest to feed. These gentle giants don't eat in winter; the summer surge of small fish in northern waters fills their bellies and fattens them up for the next trip south.

Pacific white-sided dolphins, seen in groups of hundreds along British Columbia's coastal inland waters, also feed on small fish, like herring and sardines, and love Pacific salmon.

The human element

Along with the influx of marine biodiversity associated with long summer days, June is also the beginning of bustling human activity along the Pacific coast. Tourism in British Columbia is worth billions of dollars, and is strongly supported by recreational fisheries, kayak excursions, surfing and whale watching tours—all peaking during summer months.

While enjoying the long daylight hours and beautiful attractions along our coast, take a moment to consider your part in this magnificent, complex ecosystem. Join the effort to protect Canada's marine environment by becoming a David Suzuki Foundation Ocean Keeper.

June 25, 2013

Read more

Post a comment

The David Suzuki Foundation does not necessarily endorse the comments or views posted within this forum. All contributors acknowledge DSF's right to remove product/service endorsements and refuse publication of comments deemed to be offensive or that contravene our operating principles as a charitable organization. Please note that all comments are pre-moderated. Privacy Policy »