Marine Plants

Plants came from the ocean and colonised the land millions of years ago

Plant 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 creates kelp forests. The non-algae plants that survive in the sea are often found in shallow waters, such as the sea grasses (examples of which are eelgrass, Zostera, and turtle grass, Thalassia). These plants have adapted to the high salinity of the ocean environment. The inter-tidal zone is also a good place to find plant life in the sea, where mangroves or cord grass or beach grass might grow. Microscopic algae and plants provide important habitats for life, sometimes acting as hiding and foraging places for larval forms of larger fish and invertebrates.


The marine ecosystem is large, and thus there are many sub-fields of marine biology. Most involve studying specializations of particular animal groups, such as phycology, invertebrate zoology and ichthyology. Other subfields study the physical effects of continual immersion in sea water and the ocean in general, adaptation to a salty environment, and the effects of changing various oceanic properties on marine life. A subfield of marine biology studies the relationships between oceans and ocean life, and global warming and environmental issues (such as carbon dioxide displacement). Recent marine biotechnology has focused largely on marine biomolecules, especially proteins, that may have uses in medicine or engineering. Marine environments are the home to many exotic biological materials that may inspire biomimetic materials.

Microscopic life related to plants

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).

Marine habitats

Example habitual zones...

1. Littoral zone

2. Intertidal zone

3. Estuaries

4. Kelp forests

5. Coral reefs

6. Ocean banks

7. Continental shelf

8. Neritic zone

9. Straits

10. Pelagic zone

11. Oceanic zone

12. Seamounts

13. Hydrothermal vents

14. Cold seeps

15. Demersal zone

16. Benthic zone

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 7% 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. Demersal habitats are near or on the bottom of the ocean. An organism living in a pelagic habitat is said to be a pelagic organism, as in pelagic fish. Similarly, an organism living in a demersal habitat is said to be a demersal organism, as in demersal fish. Pelagic habitats are intrinsically shifting and ephemeral, depending on what ocean currents are doing.

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 shore

Tide pools with sea stars and sea anemone in Santa Cruz, California. Intertidal zones, those areas close to shore, are constantly being exposed and covered by the ocean's tides. A huge array of life lives 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 bio-erosion.

The open ocean

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. Much of the aphotic zone's energy is supplied by the open ocean in the form of detritus. The open ocean consists mostly of jellyfish and its predators such as the mola mola.

Deep sea and trenches

The deepest recorded oceanic trenches measure to date is the Mariana Trench, near the Philippines, in the Pacific Ocean at 10,924 m. 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.

Other notable oceanic trenches include Monterey Canyon, in the eastern Pacific, the Tonga Trench in the southwest at 10,882 m, the Philippine Trench, the Puerto Rico Trench at 8,605 m, the Romanche Trench at 7,760 m, Fram Basin in the Arctic Ocean at 4,665 m, the Java Trench at 7450 m, and the South Sandwich Trench at 7,235 m.

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 centres act as oases, as do their opposites, cold seeps. Such places support unique biomes and many new microbes and other life forms have been discovered at these locations.

Distribution factors

An active research topic in marine biology is to discover and map the life cycles of various species and where they spend their time. Marine biologists study how the ocean currents, tides and many other oceanic factors affect ocean life forms, including their growth, distribution and well-being. This has only recently become technically feasible with advances in GPS and newer underwater visual devices.

Most ocean life breeds in specific places, nests or not in others, spends time as juveniles in still others, and in maturity in yet others. Scientists know little about where many species spend different parts of their life cycles. For example, it is still largely unknown where sea turtles and some sharks travel. Tracking devices do not work for some life forms, and the ocean is not friendly to technology. This is important to scientists and fishermen because they are discovering that by restricting commercial fishing in one small area they can have a large impact in maintaining a healthy fish population in a much large.