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Ocean Drifters – A Secret World Beneath The Waves

9/5/2012 12:00:00 AM

The ambitious distribution of 7000 DVDs to be used as an educational tool for schools around the UK has been made possible with a donation from The Fishmongers’Company, London.

During the week 20-24th August “Ocean Drifters – A secret world beneath the waves” will be dispatched to all UK Secondary Schools (6956 schools) to arrive with Heads of Science in time for the start of the new academic year.

Written, produced and directed by Dr Richard Kirby, an internationally respected plankton scientist and Research Fellow at Plymouth University, Ocean Drifters combines cutting-edge plankton science with remarkable images to popularise this unseen world, and to relate a story of life on Earth that is often untold.

Narrated by wildlife legend Sir David Attenborough, this 15 minute film combines astonishing images and a newly commissioned musical score by Richard Grassby-Lewis, to reveal how the marine plankton influence almost every aspect of our daily lives, and how current climate change is affecting their distributions and abundance with ensuing ramifications for the marine food chain and the ecology of our entire planet.

The film was first shown at the Times Cheltenham Science Festival in July this year where it captivated a hugely enthusiastic audience with images of plankton never seen before, some at 4000 times their usual size.

“Ocean Drifters” has now been developed as an educational film and put into DVD format for the school classroom and it is supported by its own website www.oceandrifters.org.

Nigel Cox, the Clerk of the Fishmongers Company said “We are delighted to be able to support this worthwhile project. Ocean Drifters is a wonderful film which can be used as an educational tool to explain the science in a new and exciting format. The implications that Plankton biomass have on our Fisheries are astounding but few people are aware of them. We applaud Dr Richard Kirby’s inspired and refreshing vision and wish him every success in this venture.”

Dr Richard Kirby said "The plankton underpin commercial fisheries, both fish and shellfish fisheries, and so it was great to get recognition from the Fishmongers’ Company for this science education project.

“Plankton underpins the marine food chain. Without the plankton there wouldn't be any fish in the sea, no whales, dolphins or seals, no seabirds in the sky, or polar bears on the ice.

It is plankton that also give the sea its distinctive smell referred to as the "sea air" because certain phytoplankton - the plant-like cells - release aromatic chemicals when they die.

And they are even responsible for forming clouds because these same chemicals when they enter the atmosphere react with sunlight creating particles around which water droplets form.

The importance of plankton on a global scale is obvious when you realise that 50% of the world's photosynthesis takes place in the surface of the sea, drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the oceans.

Therefore - they also account for 50% of the oxygen in the air we breathe, which is a by-product of photosynthesis. So every other breath you take is due to the plankton.

The carbon in oil and gas represents the dead remains of plankton that became buried in sediments after they sank to the sea bed over thousands of millions of years of time. When we burn oil and gas we are releasing the carbon it contains back to the atmosphere over a much shorter time scale than it was sequestered by the plankton, influencing our climate.

With sea temperatures rising as a result of the warming climate, the numbers and distribution of the plankton are changing with ensuing ramifications for the whole marine food chain, and the ecology of our planet.

In the North Sea we have seen a major change in the plankton food web as the North Sea has warmed by about 1°C over the last 30 years. This has signalled a fundamental change in the ecosystem as a whole with a knock-on effect for commercial fisheries.

Although you may be unaware of their presence, you will have travelled with them if you have sailed across the sea and you will have smelled their presence from the sea shore, your car is fuelled by their remains and over millions of years they created some of the most enigmatic features of our coastline.

It is all these points that combine to make such a great story to tell in the school classroom because it brings together all the disciplines – Biology, Chemistry and Physics as well as Geography and Geology. There are an incredible amount of links that Teachers can use to their advantage. It complements the curriculum well and I hope it will help engage students in a more exciting, fascinating and relevant way than ever before.”

The Ocean Drifters film is based upon Dr Richard Kirby’s bestselling popular science book by the same title. The making of “Ocean Drifters” was funded by Carl Zeiss Ltd, the UK Natural Environment Research Council and Plymouth University.

The larvae of the Angular crab Goneplax rhomboides

Dr Richard Kirby - Author, Producer & Director of "Ocean Drifters"