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Ocean Views
Freda Reid | Cuchara Drive

Phytoplankton organisms seen through a scanning electron microscope.
Courtesy Freda Reid. 
Click on image to enlarge.

You have a Del Mar view of the Pacific Ocean! What do you see?
The horizon, the expanse of the endless sea, colorful sunsets, silver streaks of moonlight, white water, wide elegant breaking waves, dainty beach ripples, occasionally a ship in the distance. All part of the luxury of living in DelMar.

What do I see?
As a phytoplankton biologist my view is broadened by the additional luxury of seeing under the Pacific, of recognizing that this is another world inhabited by myriad living animals and plants, the majority invisible without high- powered microscopy.

The large sea organisms are familiar to everyone, but they are a minor part of the sea life which sustains them. I am fortunate to see the zooplankton, and especially the beautiful phytoplankton which forms the basis of the food chain. The cells of these plants vary in size from about 1 to 200 microns. A micron (or micrometer) is one millionth of a meter. A red blood cell is 5 microns.

Phytoplankton organisms seen through a scanning electron microscope.
Courtesy Freda Reid.
Click on image to enlarge.

The diatoms have silica shells carved into multiple ornamented shapes containing the essential nucleus and chloroplasts for photosynthesis. They float at random whereas the dinoflagellates usually have motility organs. Some of them are the producers of the bright blue luminescence which occasionally lights up the sea but can also produce harmful substances. Coccolithophorids are among the smallest phytoplankters with a great variety of delicate shells constructed of calcium carbonate.

So when I look at the ocean, I can imagine not just water with salt, but a thick soup of miniscule bodies floating and swimming and providing food for the fish we eat or some of the whales we gaze at.

My diatomist brother-in-law had a special opinion. “I don’t swim in the ocean. I don’t like to get diatoms in my ears.”


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