All About Algae
Mo’ algae, mo’ problems.
During my travels to Europe, I had the astounding opportunity to visit Switzerland for a few days. The views were, if even describable in words, astutely immaculate. It was relaxing to breathe the fresh, crisp air. The sounds of the rivers crashing upon one another were blissful.
With spruce and fir trees erupting from the ground, it’s easy to immerse yourself in the nature of the country.
You’d think the fresh air in Switzerland’s atmosphere is primarily due to its trees. And while they are drop-dead gorgeous…
You’d be wrong.
It’s a common misconception that trees produce most of the oxygen that we mortals breathe in. You probably thought so too. Surprisingly, it’s algae that provide approximately 70% of Earth’s oxygen.
Being thoroughly fair, we can’t give algae all the credit.
Oxygen is produced by photosynthesizing organisms that live in the ocean, freshwater, or land. These organisms include bacteria and plants.
They utilize sunlight to create oxygen in the form of sugars.
The sunlight allows the algae to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugar.
The algae consume the sugars for food and are kind enough to release some oxygen.
Structure of Algae
Let’s dive into the general structure of Mother Nature’s most sacred organism: algae.
Algae are nonvascular, meaning they are not encompassed with true roots, but rather fake ones! The thallus, part of the algae, anchors algae to the bottom of the water, growing stationary.
To keep these algae afloat, balloon-like structures filled with air are located at the bottom of the algae.
There are three main types of organelles: the nucleus, chloroplasts, and mitochondria.
They direct messages to other organelles, the primary reason for the green color in algae, and generate power for transportation, respectively.
Harmful or Helpful: Algae Blooms
Harmful algal blooms are mainly the result of a surplus of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae (source)
Algae blooms occur due to abundant algal growth due to environmental conditions. These conditions can range from increased nutrients (phosphorous), warmer temperature (ah yes, global warming), abundant light, and the list continue.
Reasons Why Algae Blooms are Helpful:
Phytoplankton is found at the base of the marine food chain therefore all other life in the ocean relies on phytoplankton.
Algal blooms provide more food to marine species that need it. For this reason, productivity increases in areas where algal blooms occur.
The presence of algae near the surface where they can absorb the sun’s energy helps contribute to a healthier ocean.
Reasons Why Algae Blooms are Harmful:
An abundance of algae blooms can cause problems with drinking water for nearby communities.
Algae blooms also lower water oxygen content when it dies and decomposes. They also prevent sunlight from entering the water.
You heard it here first: The statement “too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing” also holds true in nature!
Oxygen and Algae (Blooms)
The overgrowth of algae consumes oxygen and blocks sunlight from underwater plants. When the algae eventually dies, the oxygen in the water is consumed.
This creates a ….
These are areas of the water where aquatic life cannot survive due to low oxygen levels. They can also be caused by nutrient pollution, directly relating to algae blooms.
The lifespan of unicellular green algae is at least 4 weeks. When they die, they sink to the seafloor and stop producing oxygen. There, they get decomposed by bacteria. The bacteria consumes any of the remaining oxygen left, which decreases the amount of oxygen in the water.
One would infer that excessive algae growth = more fish food = more oxygen = happiness all around, but the world works in mysterious ways.
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