Plankton visible through a microscope.
8 June 2009
Phytoplankton are tiny single-celled plants found throughout the world's oceans. Although they're small, they're crucial, because they provide food for the rest of the marine food chain.
A glass of water from the Mersey can contain around a million phytoplankton. But like bacteria, they are too small to see with the naked eye. Researchers can see individual cells only with a powerful microscope. But during the spring, phytoplankton grow into massive blooms, which can be tracked from space.
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Fishermen are well aware of their importance. They concentrate their efforts where they know they'll get the most catch - right on the edge of the continental shelf off the west coast of Britain.
Science writer and broadcaster Sue Nelson meets Dr Jonathan Sharples of the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory in Liverpool to find out why the edge of the shelf is so important.
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