Marine biology is the study of any living plant or animal in the sea. Marine biologists are the people who study it. Like other scientists, marine biologists must know a lot about the creatures they are studying. They also must understand how the sea works. The study of how the sea works is oceanography. There are many kinds of marine animals and plants to study.
As inhabitants of the largest environment on Earth, microbial marine systems drive changes in every global system. Microbes are responsible for virtually all the photosynthesis that occurs in the ocean, as well as the cycling of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients and trace elements.
Microscopic life undersea is incredibly diverse and still poorly understood. For example, the role of viruses in marine ecosystems is barely being explored even in the beginning of the 21st century.
The role of phytoplankton is better understood due to their critical position as the most numerous primary producers on Earth. Phytoplankton are categorized into cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae/bacteria), various types of algae (red, green, brown, and yellow-green), diatoms, dinoflagellates, euglenoids, coccolithophorids, cryptomonads, chrysophytes, chlorophytes, prasinophytes, and silicoflagellates.
Zooplankton tend to be somewhat larger, and not all are microscopic. Many Protozoa are zooplankton, including dinoflagellates, zooflagellates, foraminiferans, and radiolarians. Some of these (such as dinoflagellates) are also phytoplankton; the distinction between plants and animals often breaks down in very small organisms. Other zooplankton include cnidarians, ctenophores, chaetognaths, molluscs, arthropods, urochordates, and annelids such as polychaetes. Many larger animals begin their life as zooplankton before they become large enough to take their familiar forms. Two examples are fish larvae and sea stars (also called starfish).
Plants and algae
Microscopic algae and plants provide important habitats for life, sometimes acting as hiding places for larval forms of larger fish and foraging places for invertebrates.
Algal life is widespread and very diverse under the ocean. Microscopic photosynthetic algae contribute a larger proportion of the world's photosynthetic output than all the terrestrial forests combined. Most of the niche occupied by sub plants on land is actually occupied by macroscopic algae in the ocean, such as Sargassum and kelp, which are commonly known as seaweeds that create kelp forests.
Plants that survive in the sea are often found in shallow waters, such as the seagrasses (examples of which are eelgrass, Zostera, and turtle grass, Thalassia). These plants have adapted to the high salinity of the ocean environment. The intertidal zone is also a good place to find plant life in the sea, where mangroves or cordgrass or beach grass might grow.
As on land, invertebrates make up a huge portion of all life in the sea. Invertebrate sea life includes Cnidaria such as jellyfish and sea anemones; Ctenophora; sea worms including the phyla Platyhelminthes, Nemertea, Annelida, Sipuncula, Echiura, Chaetognatha, and Phoronida; Mollusca including shellfish, squid, octopus; Arthropoda including Chelicerata and Crustacea; Porifera; Bryozoa; Echinodermata including starfish; and Urochordata including sea squirts or tunicates. Invertebrates have no backbone. There are over a million species.
Over 1500 species of fungi are known from marine environments. These are parasitic on marine algae or animals, or are saprobes on algae, corals, protozoan cysts, sea grasses, wood and other substrata, and can also be found in sea foam. Spores of many species have special appendages which facilitate attachment to the substratum. A very diverse range of unusual secondary metabolites is produced by marine fungi.
Reptiles which inhabit or frequent the sea include sea turtles, sea snakes, terrapins, the marine iguana, and the saltwater crocodile. Most extant marine reptiles, except for some sea snakes, are oviparous and need to return to land to lay their eggs. Thus most species, excepting sea turtles, spend most of their lives on or near land rather than in the ocean. Despite their marine adaptations, most sea snakes prefer shallow waters nearby land, around islands, especially waters that are somewhat sheltered, as well as near estuaries. Some extinct marine reptiles, such as ichthyosaurs, evolved to be viviparous and had no requirement to return to land.
Birds adapted to living in the marine environment are often called seabirds. Examples include albatross, penguins, gannets, and auks. Although they spend most of their lives in the ocean, species such as gulls can often be found thousands of miles inland.
There are five main types of marine mammals, namely cetaceans (toothed whales and baleen whales); sirenians such as manatees; pinnipeds including seals and the walrus; sea otters; and the polar bear. All are air-breathing, and while some such as the sperm whale can dive for prolonged periods, all must return to the surface to breathe.
Marine habitats can be divided into coastal and open ocean habitats. Coastal habitats are found in the area that extends from the shoreline to the edge of the continental shelf. Most marine life is found in coastal habitats, even though the shelf area occupies only seven percent of the total ocean area. Open ocean habitats are found in the deep ocean beyond the edge of the continental shelf. Alternatively, marine habitats can be divided into pelagic and demersal habitats. Pelagic habitats are found near the surface or in the open water column, away from the bottom of the ocean and affected by ocean currents, while demersal habitats are near or on the bottom. Marine habitats can be modified by their inhabitants. Some marine organisms, like corals, kelp and sea grasses, are ecosystem engineers which reshape the marine environment to the point where they create further habitat for other organisms.
Intertidal and near shore
Intertidal zones, the areas that are close to the shore, are constantly being exposed and covered by the ocean's tides. A huge array of life can be found within this zone. Shore habitats span from the upper intertidal zones to the area where land vegetation takes prominence. It can be underwater anywhere from daily to very infrequently. Many species here are scavengers, living off of sea life that is washed up on the shore. Many land animals also make much use of the shore and intertidal habitats. A subgroup of organisms in this habitat bores and grinds exposed rock through the process of bioerosion.
Estuaries are also near shore and influenced by the tides. An estuary is a partially enclosed coastal body of water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it and with a free connection to the open sea. Estuaries form a transition zone between freshwater river environments and saltwater maritime environments. They are subject both to marine influences—such as tides, waves, and the influx of saline water—and to riverine influences—such as flows of fresh water and sediment. The shifting flows of both sea water and fresh water provide high levels of nutrients both in the water column and in sediment, making estuaries among the most productive natural habitats in the world.
Reefs comprise some of the densest and most diverse habitats in the world. The best-known types of reefs are tropical coral reefs which exist in most tropical waters; however, reefs can also exist in cold water. Reefs are built up by corals and other calcium-depositing animals, usually on top of a rocky outcrop on the ocean floor. Reefs can also grow on other surfaces, which has made it possible to create artificial reefs. Coral reefs also support a huge community of life, including the corals themselves, their symbiotic zooxanthellae, tropical fish and many other organisms.
Much attention in marine biology is focused on coral reefs and the El Niño weather phenomenon. In 1998, coral reefs experienced the most severe mass bleaching events on record, when vast expanses of reefs across the world died because sea surface temperatures rose well above normal. Some reefs are recovering, but scientists say that between 50% and 70% of the world's coral reefs are now endangered and predict that global warming could exacerbate this trend.
The open ocean is relatively unproductive because of a lack of nutrients, yet because it is so vast, in total it produces the most primary productivity. The open ocean is separated into different zones, and the different zones each have different ecologies. Zones which vary according to their depth include the epipelagic, mesopelagic, bathypelagic, abyssopelagic, and hadopelagic zones. Zones which vary by the amount of light they receive include the photic and aphotic zones. Much of the aphotic zone's energy is supplied by the open ocean in the form of detritus.
Deep sea and trenches
The deepest recorded oceanic trench measured to date is the Mariana Trench, near the Philippines, in the Pacific Ocean at 10,924 m (35,840 ft). At such depths, water pressure is extreme and there is no sunlight, but some life still exists. A white flatfish, a shrimp and a jellyfish were seen by the American crew of the bathyscaphe Trieste when it dove to the bottom in 1960. In general, the deep sea is considered to start at the aphotic zone, the point where sunlight loses its power of transference through the water. Many life forms that live at these depths have the ability to create their own light known as bio-luminescence. Marine life also flourishes around seamounts that rise from the depths, where fish and other sea life congregate to spawn and feed. Hydrothermal vents along the mid-ocean ridge spreading centers act as oases, as do their opposites, cold seeps. Such places support unique biomes and many new microbes and other lifeforms have been discovered at these locations .
Marine biology Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.