"How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean."
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This old quote of A. C. Clarke has been close to my heart ever since I first heard it when the marine environment and library represented my only working space. What a brilliant observation of a man who managed to popularise science like no one else and demonstrated that fantasy is a gift not to be taken lightly.
The vast salt body of the ocean that many of us so much love represents a 70% of the planet's surface and contains a 97% of the Earth's water, most of it still unexplored. It drives weather, regulates temperature, ultimately sustaining all living organisms. Those who experienced rough sea, seasickness or almost drowned at sea have a respect for it, but even these experiences often do not take away the love we feel for it.
Whenever I think of the Ocean, I visualise the deep sapphire blue of the Mediterranean Sea that represents my most notable memories. I think of the beauty of the tiny sea snails (Gastropoda), abundant in vibrant colours, and photosynthetic phytoplankton that lits up as I move my hand in the darkness of the night sea. There is nothing more beautiful and fragile than the marine environment.
Then another image comes to mind, that of the biological debris known as marine snow beautifully described by a current author who popularises science, Alok Jha. He writes:
"When plankton die, their remains fall to the bottom of the ocean, something oceanographers call 'marine snow'. In some parts of the ocean, layer upon layer of dead plankton can build up over millions of years, to hundreds of meters in depth. In the way, tree rings can tell us about the history of a forest environment, the ancient layers of plankton store information about past marine climates."
Of course, marine snow is not only plankton but any plant or animal that through decay and death became organic and inorganic detritus that falls towards the seafloor; it is a continuous underwater rain that provides food for many deep-sea animals. It is crucial to microbial communities that play an essential role in nutrient cycles on Earth. That is the marine environment, a fragile and yet correctly working intertwined arrangement that needs to be protected.
L. S. V.
Photo credits: R. Ruiz; I. Álvarez Fdez; Giachen's World