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15 Importance of Protists in the Ocean

by Ranisa Alda

Protists are actually a diverse collection of many different kind of organisms. Protists are usually unicellular (made up of a single cell) and microscopic, however it is possible for protists to be shaped otherwise. Protists have cells that are really organized with a nucleus and have a specialized cellular machinery that is called as organelles.

Diverse organisms such as amoebas, algae, and ciliates (such as paramaecium) are fit to general conditions of protist. Here in this article, we are going to learn further about the protists and what are actually the importance of protists in the ocean.

  1. Source of Ocean Animals’ Food

The protists can make their own food by using the sun’s energy. In return, then these protists become the food source for the other animals in the ocean itself. Without the protists, lots of animals will not survive. The phytoplankton for example, serve as a food source for whales.

Zooplankton, on the other hand, serve as food for some other animals such as larval crabs and shrimp. Seaweed is also considered as algae, a plant-like protist, in which us human love to consume as well. To put it simply, protists have a very fundamental role in the food chain.

See also: Types of Kelp

  1. First Complex Life on Earth

The protists have been around for such a long time that they can let us know about the origins of complex multicellular organisms like the animals and plants. They can let us understand on how the multicellularity have evolved.

See also: Plants in the Great Barrier Reef

  1. Clean Large Water Bodies

The protists can help to clean out the ocean’s water as they will prey on the bacteria in the ocean. Thus making it cleaner and less harmful even for us human.

See also: Importance of Ocean Conservation

  1. Absorb CO2

The protists will not only prey on the bacteria in the ocean, but will also absorb the carbon dioxide present in the water body, thus making the water even less harmful than before.

See also: Producers in Ocean Ecosystems

  1. Produce Oxygen

Not only that it preys on bacteria and absorb carbon dioxide, the protists will also produce the oxygen in the ocean. Types of protists that can produce oxygen due to their respiration cycle are the spirulina and aphanizomenon flos-aquae of the blue-green algae type.

The marine diatoms and dinoflagellates are also responsible to provide a good portion of oxygen for the Earth. These little cyanobacteria really do play an important role in making the world to be rich of oxygen. The blue-green algae itself can provide up to 80% of oxygen on Earth.

See also: Plants that Live in the Pacific Ocean

  1. Alternative Energy

The brown and blue-green algae are currently being studied to be used as a biofuel which then can replace the fossil fuels. The living algae itself actually contain 50% of oil, which then can be harvested and transformed into a usable diesel, gas fuel, and oil.

The fact that algae grows very fast only makes it better, allowing the producers to keep on making the biofuel as the demand for it is increasing. It is worth to note as well that the modern fossil fuels are also originated from protists, the remains of brown algae and prehistoric animals to be exact.

See also: Types of Ocean Vegetation

  1. Symbiotic Relationships

Some types of protists may offer symbiotic benefits to its host animals. Trichonymphs for example, live in the intestines of termites, will eat the wood cellulose wood that was eaten by the termites, helping the eaten food to be broken down into digestible components for the termites themselves. These protists who live in the digestive tracts of other animals will help the host animals to break down the food they consumed for nutrients as well as energy.

There is also a kind of protist, the zooxanthellae of dinoflagellates to be exact, that live in the corals and their existence then help the corals to photosynthesize.

See also: Plants in the Pacific Ocean

  1. Source of Primary Production

Algae as one of the photosynthetic protists itself is also responsible for up to 40% primary production on the Earth.

See also: Characteristics of Seaweed

  1. Decomposers

Some protists can also work as decomposers. They would break down any dead organic material components which will then can be consumed by the other organisms. This process can be called as nutrient recycling and is very important.

See also: Types of Seaweed in the Great Barrier Reef

  1. As Ecosystems

Algae such as seaweed can be a mini-ecosystems for the other marine life forms. Especially for the larval and juvenile life forms that would need a safe place to hide. Other protists such as giant kelp buds actually function as a complete ecosystem too in many parts of the ocean.

See also: Importance of Algae in Ocean

  1. Toxic Algal Blooms

Although there is many importance of protists in the ocean that are good and useful, there are also some downsides from them. One of it is how diatoms and dinoflagellates of algal species, can be responsible for the growth of toxic algal blooms in oceans and even rivers. This issue then can bring problems to the environment and even the economy.

See also: Types of Algae

Types of Protist

After learning the importance of protists, we might as well learn further about them by identifying the types of protists.

  • The Little Architects, Foraminifera

This type of protist can also be called as ‘forams’. The forams are one of the largest unicellular organisms. Their size can be as small as 100 micrometers but can their length can grow to as big as seven inches.

The reason on why they are also called as little architects is because they can build a shell called test for themselves. The shell is usually made out from the calcium carbonate.

It is estimated that there are about 4,000 species of forams living today in which a lot of them lives mostly on the bottom of the ocean since they are benthic. However there are a few of them who are planktonic in which they will float around the ocean.

  • The Tiny Glass Ornaments, Diatoms

There are over 13,500 of diatoms, making them the largest group of unicellular algal protists.

The diatoms can be found in almost every aquatic environment in which most of them are actually the ocean waters.

  • The Fire Plants, Dinoflagellates

The dinoflagellates comes in second after the diatoms for being the largest group of algal protists. The flagellates have about 3,400 species under it. They belong to the Pyrrophyta classification that literally translated into fire plants.

The dinoflagellates are very important to some corals that they would not survive without this protist since the dinoflagellates needs to be incorporated into the coral to multiply and photosynthesize. The photosynthesize of dinoflagellates is very important to the coral since it will produces carbohydrates as food for the coral.

  • The Phaeophyta, Brown Algae

The brown algae are very important to the fish and even the humans, as a source of food. The brown algae contain a large amount of iodine in it which is a very necessary nutrient for life.

They also contain alginate in it that can be used for some food production. Included in this brown algae is the kelps.

Now that we have also know the types of protists, we can better understand about what is actually the importance of protists in the ocean. We hope that this article was helpful for you to broaden your knowledge about our ocean and the amazing living forms in it.

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