PHYTOPLANKTON (Algal Blooms)
Phytoplankton are microscopic, single-celled algae that comprise the "meadows" of the sea. They make up for their small size by their incredible abundance in the sunlit surface waters, and are an essential link from the sun's energy to aquatic food webs. Phytoplankton are diverse, and capable of rapid growth under conditions of nutrient enrichment. When excess nitrogen is available certain phytoplankton "bloom" to high densities, clouding and coloring the water with their profusion. Where such conditions are chronic, the overgrowth of phytoplankton can have serious consequences for the rest of the ecosystem including reducing the amount of light reaching the bottom and decreasing the amount of oxygen during phytoplankton respiration and decomposition. Nutrient imbalances may be responsible for the proliferation of toxic algal blooms, including "red tides" and Pfiestearia outbreaks (both caused by dinoflagellate phytoplankton species).