The very air that we breathe

Hi kids! How about an opinion piece for people your age? Since you will inherit our planet and hopefully help to preserve it for the generations to come, it’s important to keep you informed and thinking about some vitals, such as the oxygen we breathe. I want to share with you a subject we take for granted but that we must think about saving to save life on earth.

All of you probably know that when people take a breathe of air they should thank the trees, as trees take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. But the other source may come as a surprise to you as about half of the oxygen we breathe comes from phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are very small creatures that live on the surface of our world’s oceans and lakes. Just one alone is invisible to your eye and can’t be seen without a microscope. Some look like a bowl with two tails, some have an oval shape and some even look like a tiny fork. And some have spines while others have crowns. When they’re healthy they give us at least half of all the oxygen we breathe.

Phytoplankton love sunshine and can turn it into energy and they do so by a means known as photosynthesis. The great benefit to us is that this photosynthesis process makes oxygen through its waste.

There are billions upon billions of phytoplankton that, all day long, every day, release tiny puffs of oxygen. Of course, as you may know already, many animals eat them as their food, including whales, jelly fish, shrimp and small fish. As a result, phytoplankton, you might say, are at the beginning or bottom of the food chain. Of further interest to you may be that some of them can glow and when millions of them glow at night they can light up the water they are in like small scale fireworks.

Now, phytoplankton can also do harm to the environment. For example, when too much fertilizer gets washed into bodies of water, the tiny creatures multiply quickly, becoming algal bloom that occur in both freshwater and the oceans. Algal blooms then can cause what’s known as a chain reaction when there are so many of them that they themselves use up the oxygen to cause a “dead zone” where no creature can live. By the way, when we throw garbage into our streams, lakes, rivers and oceans the tiny creatures that make the oxygen in our atmosphere, and keep us humans alive, die and stop making oxygen.

As a writer who wants each and every young person to enjoy a long life, I want you to know that it is going to be up to you and your friends to know about the importance of phytoplankton, how they make oxygen and what stops and even destroys them. Without every person on our planet doing his and her part to save phytoplankton there could come a day when there is no oxygen. If that happens, all people will perish. There’s still time but you must look after phytoplankton as your responsibility as it is your part in saving the health of our planet for humans and all things great and small. And please don’t forget our important oxygen-producing trees as you can do your part to save them too.

(Gene H. McIntyre shares his opinion regularly in the Keizertimes.)