Marine phytoplankton (also known as microalgae) are single-cell micro-organisms that live in natural bodies of water all over the world. They float near the surface of the water but are at the very bottom of the marine food chain. Therefore, they are essential for all life in the seas. (1)
Like plants, phytoplankton use sunlight for energy through photosynthesis. There are two main classes of phytoplankton (from Greek “phyto” meaning plant and “plankton” meaning drifter): dinoflagellates and diatoms.
Dinoflagellates have little tails that help to propel them through the water while diatoms drift with the waves. Both are protected by complex shells and are the staple foodstuff for zooplankton, krill, shellfish, and jellyfish. (2)
What is Marine Phytoplankton?
Phytoplankton are similar to spirulina but, unlike spirulina which grows only in fresh water, phytoplankton can grow in salt water. The oceans contain minerals and other nutrients that fresh water does not, providing phytoplankton with a rich nutritional profile.
Because phytoplankton are covered with dense shells that aren’t readily digestible by humans, food science has developed a means by which to crush the shells to make it possible for us to use the organisms inside.
Chlorophyll in phytoplankton (the pigment that makes plants green) uses sunlight and carbon dioxide to transform light energy into carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Different varieties of phytoplankton require different nutrients; their growth rates depend on the mineral content, temperature, salinity, and depth of the water in which they reside. (3)
As a by-product of photosynthesis, phytoplankton release oxygen. So much oxygen, in fact, that the volume matches what is produced by trees and land plants. (4) The importance of marine phytoplankton to all life on the planet can therefore not be over-stated.
Wild vs. Cultured Phytoplankton
Wild marine phytoplankton populations (like wild fish) have drastically declined over the last 60 years due to pollution and increases in water temperature. (5) Laboratories have been created to grow phytoplankton in either a protected open pond environment or, more commonly for human consumption, using a photobioreactor that acts like a closed ecological system for their culture and growth. (6)
A photobioreactor acts as a sort of “mini-ocean” that’s protected from pollutants and toxins. It’s a series of large glass tubes that allow purified ocean water containing carefully selected phytoplankton to flow through them, exposing the phytoplankton to natural sunlight for photosynthesis. Using a photobioreactor allows for natural growth without contamination. (7)
Commercial microalgae are harvested by filtering or centrifuging—centrifuging is the fastest and most efficient method. Algae are placed into a centrifuge machine and spun around at fast speeds to separate the liquid from the solid. (8) The resulting phytoplankton are further processed into their final dried powder or liquid supplement.
10 Marine Phytoplankton Benefits
This is why you need to give marine phytoplankton a try.