Q:

What are some facts about ocean ecosystems?

A:

The ocean ecosystem, also known as the pelagic zone, is the largest collective ecosystem on Earth. Open waters have the greatest volume and depth of any living zone on the planet. The basis of ocean life is plankton, which are microscopic plants that move along ocean currents. Small animals such as krill eat plankton, and then progressively larger animals eat krill. Ocean ecosystems cover 70 percent of the Earth.

Ocean ecosystems include open oceans and shoreline habitats, such as mud flats, coral reefs, barrier islands, estuaries, salt marshes and mangrove forests. Plants found in ocean ecosystems include seaweed, kelp, algae, sea grasses and plankton. Animals that live in or near ocean ecosystems include one-celled protozoa, mollusks, anemones, jellyfish, zooplankton, crustaceans, sea stars, bony fish, cetaceans, sharks, sea lions, seals, penguins and other sea birds. Most ocean life exists in the photic zone, which is the region where sunlight makes photosynthesis possible.

Nutrients in ocean ecosystems come from areas where water washes off land and from cold currents upwelling from the bottom that rise to the ocean surface. One of the most productive upwelling zones is in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Peru. This upwelling stops during an El Niño event, which reduces fish populations in the area because plankton do not grow as readily due to lack of nutrients.

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