Christmas at the Beach with Plankton Races
By Jerry Donohue
More than 50 people celebrated Christmas at the Beach on December 8 at Bolsa Chica State Beach. Before settling down on the beach to watch the film Elf projected onto the outside of the Visitor Center, young and old alike viewed plankton under the microscopes. Twenty young people participated in “Plankton Races” where they chose from a variety of lightweight materials in order to construct an object that is like phytoplankton. The intent is to mimic the properties of a species of phytoplankton, many of which cannot propel themselves through the water. If plankton floats too close to the surface, it can be harmed by ultraviolet light, and if it sinks too fast, it does not absorb energy from the sun. The object of the race, therefore, is to sink slowly to the bottom of the water container. Whoever creates the plankton that takes the greatest amount of time to sink wins. This teaches players that the slow descent allows the phytoplankton — the basis of the ocean food web — to absorb energy from the sun while in the most beneficial area of the ocean known as the photic zone. We had three winners whose creations took 5-10 seconds to reach the bottom of the tank.