Experts meet to further research on plankton and climate change

A biofluorescent shark filmed by Dr David Gruber.
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A biofluorescent shark filmed by Dr David Gruber.

International experts - and discoverers of bioluminescent sea secrets - are gathering in Auckland to discuss how plankton DNA can be used to predict climate change. 

Plankton Planet is a non-profit organisation that is aiming to crowdsource sailors around the world to gather plankton samples and use its DNA to better understand and forecast the effects of climate change.

Plankton is any plant or animal organism that cannot swim against the currents. It produces half of the world's oxygen and acts as a major regulator of climate change by absorbing man-made carbon dioxide.

The first image of a biofluorescent hawksbill turtle.
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The first image of a biofluorescent hawksbill turtle.

It's role in navigating climate change will be discussed in depth at an event An Epic Voyage Through Our Changing Sea being held at the New Zealand Maritime Museum on July 6.

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Organiser Xavier Pochon said plankton's role in regulating climate was critical. 

National Geographic explorer Dr David Gruber, who will speak at the event, discovered and researched fluorescent sea ...
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National Geographic explorer Dr David Gruber, who will speak at the event, discovered and researched fluorescent sea life such as this seahorse.

"Plankton communities are extremely dynamic, they change very rapidly in response to environment change," Pochon said.

It takes seven days for a plankton population to completely regenerate, compared to the decades it takes for forests, he said. 

If scientists were able to capture enough plankton and understand how it regenerated the information could be used to predict further climate change, he said.

Pochon said using research vessels to gather plankton was too expensive, costing about $30,000 a day, but with 15,000 sailing boats travelling around the globe every day it made sense to try and harness the sailing community.

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"If you are able to tap into that fleet and find a way to provide them with a simple sampling tool kit then you have a fantastic potential," Pochon said. 

Pochon said plankton was important for New Zealanders who spent so much time near and on the water. 

"There is not enough knowledge about these microscopic organisms that are in the ocean yet play a critical role in sustaining life," Pochon said.

"Through this programme people can engage more, learn about the complexity of the ocean and how they can contribute."

For the event next week Pochon gathered a series of experts in different fields from the United States, France and New Zealand.

National Geographic explorer Dr David Gruber, who will speak at the event, was behind a team at City University of New York that first discovered a new form of glowing marine life.

In 2015 they discovered the first bioflourescent sea turtle in the Solomon Islands, which had the ability to reflect blue light and re-emit it as glowing red and green.

"Whether it be plankton, corals, or sharks, we are discovering a secret world of marine life that has existed for millions of years that we are only now beginning to notice," Gruber said.  

Dr Manu Prakash from Stanford University was working on a low cost microscope that would allow the sailing community to view plankton in the sea. 

 - Stuff

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