Academic journal article Science Scope

Islands Support More Sea Life Than Nearby Oceans

Academic journal article Science Scope

Islands Support More Sea Life Than Nearby Oceans

Article excerpt

When Charles Darwin first saw a coral reef, the increased levels of plankton and bird and marine life puzzled him. How could such a productive system exist in such a seemingly unproductive environment? This question became known as Darwin's paradox.

Researchers have recently proven a 60-year-old theory to explain why seas surrounding islands and atolls are particularly productive. The Island Mass Effect is a hypothesis explaining why waters surrounding small islands, reefs, and atolls support a greater abundance of sea life than is found in the nearby open ocean.

The researchers found the extent to which the Island Mass Effect happens and also identified some of the key drivers in this positive feedback effect, which acts as a life-supporting mechanism. The researchers measured a massive increase in phytoplankton in the waters surrounding 35 small islands and atolls in the Pacific Ocean. They recorded up to 86% more phytoplankton in these waters than is found in open oceans. Having a greater number of these microscopic organisms affects the food chain all the way up to the top predators such as tuna, who feed on the fish and animals supported by the phytoplankton. But why does the phytoplankton thrive in these areas?

Once the growth of the phytoplankton begins, it becomes a self-fueling cycle--a little bit of life brings more. …

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