Hey Algae! Thanks for the Oxygen

It’s widely understood that the oxygen we breathe comes from leafy, green trees. Large-scale campaigns strive to save the “lungs of the Earth,” our rainforests – and rightfully so. The green leaves of these rooted wonders are power plants for the process of photosynthesis, emitting oxygen and allowing life on Earth to exist. What this concept ignores is the fact that just 30% of our planet is made up of actual earth. It’s oceans that are the predominant landscape of the Earth’s surface and – although we can’t see it – this is where most of the oxygen magic happens. Most of the air we breathe comes from an immeasurable number of microscopic organisms known as algae. We thought it was time they got a little love.

A tree and its root system in the woods

Oxygen providers: Rooted wonders

Microscopic view of phytoplankton

& Phytoplankton

As we publish these words, the world is celebrating Earth Day, this year with new resolve. Focused on a Restore Our Earth theme, Earth Day 2021 is highlighting the hardship we as a human race are resurfacing from (namely, our global pandemic) and the fact that, as we slowly return to the lives we once led, we cannot return to the means by which we led them. Our world and its resources are too precious, and if there is any good that can come out of such a difficult time, it should be the lesson of appreciating what we have and finding ways to sustain it for the future.

Cue algae. Some sources say these tiny miracle plants provide over 50% of the world’s oxygen! Just as land-bound vegetation, algae absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen as a by-product. In fact, they invented this photosynthetic process (they’ve only been around for, oh, a few billion years). Algae don’t only provide us with plenty of O2; they also combat climate change through their ever-so-efficient means of existence. Did you know that marine plants can store up to 20 times as much carbon dioxide as their land-based counterparts per acre? As global warming pervades our atmosphere, it is the silent work of microalgae that is helping combat the trend by absorbing large quantities of carbon dioxide.

Although they’re often not visible to the naked eye (thousands of these microscopic water plants can be found in a single drop of water), a growing awareness of algae is spreading and with it, the precious aquatic organisms are getting the opportunity to shine. Anonymous-no-more – and we’re here for it.

The Swedish island Gotland with algae swirling in the dark water surrounding it

Phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea.

Barents Sea algae in the dark blue waters

An abundance of sea flowers in Barents Sea in the Artic Ocean

Eating Sunshine, Creating Energy & Nutrients

A quick flashback to 4th grade science class: photosynthesis is the ability to transform sun-light, water and carbon dioxide into energy. Every living plant does it, whether at sea or on land. The energy produced is what allows plants to survive. Land-based vegetation uses the energy to grow branches, leaves, roots and flowers.

Single-celled algae, on the other hand, don’t actually grow in size – they multiply. The individual cells of these plants divide again and again and again, continuously making more of them-selves. As for algae’s energy? It’s put toward creating nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids including EPA, DHA, beta-carotene, chlorophyll and astaxanthin.

That’s right, as Dr. Michael Klaper, a physician at TrueNorth Clinic, explains in Ali Tabrizi’s “Seaspiracy” documentary, it is algae – not fish – that are nature’s true source of omega-3s. Algae create them, krill and other fish then swallow the algae, and this critical nutrient moves its way up the food chain. Algae wind up in the fatty tissue of larger fish, which are then caught and ingested by humans.

Factor in the varying combinations of dioxins, PCBs, heavy metals and plastic compounds found in today’s fish populations and the question becomes clear: why not skip the toxins in our bodies and the harm to our oceans by sourcing omegas from where they originally come: our algae friends?

The planet Earth from space

For Our Planet

It’s pretty incredible to think that our oceans – an environment that is completely uninhabitable to human beings (and remains largely a mystery beneath the surface) – are what enable us to fulfill one of our most basic needs: breathing. And it’s algae we have to thank. They may be too small to see, but the uses of algae and their importance cannot be emphasized enough, from the nutrients they provide to the entire animal kingdom to the very breath that fills our lungs.

So on this day – Earth Day – let’s resolve to keep our world, keep our oceans in order, shall we, for the biggest creatures down to the tiniest ones? Supporting businesses who serve our planet is a great way to help, and choosing plant-based omega-3s like the ones available here at Simris is a big step toward healthier bodies and healthier oceans.