Skip header content and main navigation Binghamton University, State University of New York - News
Binghamton University Newsroom
Binghamton University Newsroom
MEET THE STUDENT ASKING THE QUESTION

Asked by: Mary Clare Kane
School:St. James Middle School
Grade:8
Teacher:Mrs. Walter
Hobbies/Interests:Irish dancing, babysitting and drawing
Career Interest:Artist



MEET THE SCIENTIST

faculty
Answered by: Dale Madison
Title:Professor of Biology, Binghamton University
Department:Biological Sciences
About Scientist:Ph.D. school:
University of Maryland, College Park

Family:
Wife: Diane; four children: Ryan, Nathan, Lisa and Tracy

Interests/hobbies:
Ecology, fitness, landscaping, craftsmanship and welfare volunteering

Web page address:
website

ASK A SCIENTIST

Date: 10-10-2007

Question: Why is seaweed so important to fish and sea creatures?

Answer: I remember as a boy trying to complete a YMCA mile swim along the coast of Santa Catalina Island, California. Everything was fine until I noticed kelp blades reaching up from the depths as if to grab hold of me. I leaped into the boat traveling beside me in seconds. Kelp is really the largest form of algae, known as brown algae, and it really isn't dangerous despite my reaction at the time. Other marine algae include green and red varieties, and all algae living in saltwater are commonly referred to as seaweed.

Not all the plant-like organisms in the sea are seaweed, and some seaweed isn't really a plant. The sea grass common near Caribbean coral reefs and fed upon by sea turtles isn't seaweed; it's really a land plant living in water that possesses aquatic pollen. To make things even more complicated, kelp is one of the few forms of algae that isn't a plant! What all the above seaweed-like organisms have in common is that they use sunlight and carbon dioxide to make glucose (food) and oxygen in a process called photosynthesis just like plants on land.

The two products of photosynthesis make up two of the three reasons why seaweed is so important to fish and sea creatures. Fish as with all animals need to 'breath' oxygen, and of course, all animals need to find food to survive - they can't make their food like plants. Many smaller fish, sea urchins and mollusks feed on algae, and then they in turn are fed upon by larger marine predators such as sea otters and seals. All sea creatures are part of food webs that ultimately depend on the food produced by algae, which occur as floating microscopic organisms or the larger 'leafed' forms commonly attached near shore that we refer to as seaweed.

The third way in which seaweed is important to sea creatures is in providing shelter. Unlike in a rainforest or even within a coral reef, most seas of the world are open habitats, and organisms living in them are exposed to attack by predators. In the sunlit surface waters of the sea, the protective kelp forests typical of colder ocean waters are a great place to hide, as are sea grass beds and the floating algal mats of the Sargasso Sea located in the middle Atlantic Ocean. Creatures dwelling within marine algal communities can quickly hide in these structures when predators lurk nearby, and many slow-moving algal dwellers even look like the algae to disguise themselves. Now, unlike in my youth, one of my favorite places is a kelp forest, for here, thanks to seaweed, dwells an amazing diversity of marine life, second only to the protective coral reefs of warmer tropical waters.

Ask a Scientist appears Thursdays. Questions are answered by faculty at Binghamton University.  Teachers in the greater Binghamton area who wish to participate in the program are asked to write to Ask A Scientist, c/o Binghamton University, Office of Communications and Marketing, PO Box 6000, Binghamton, NY 13902-6000 or e-mail scientist@binghamton.edu. Check out the Ask a Scientist Web site at askascientist.binghamton.edu. To submit a question, download the submission form(.pdf, 460kb).

Connect with Binghamton:
Twitter icon links to Binghamton University's Twitter page YouTube icon links to Binghamton University's YouTube page Facebook icon links to Binghamton University's Facebook page Instagram

Last Updated: 6/22/10