Planktonia: the nightly migration of the ocean’s smallest creatures by Erich Hoyt

Whilst our planet is covered 75% in salt water to the extent it should be called ‘Blue Planet’ or ‘Planet Ocean’, we still know very little about the ocean waters and their treasures: the amazing organisms that call these waters home. This is especially true of those organisms that most of us will never see – the small creatures called plankton – and then doubly so at night. Erich Hoyts outstanding new book Planktonia goes a long way to reveal this otherwise secret world. 

Then there’s the concept of ‘migration’ – normally, it makes us think of large pods of whales moving through the oceans; or on land, vast herds of wildebeest and zebra sweeping across the savannas of Africa. Classic images – all true too.  However, hidden from human sight, some of the Earth’s truly greatest migration actually takes place not once, but twice every night. The movement is largely vertical and undertaken by plankton followed by predatory fish, squid, octopus and other species that have acquired a taste for plankton. This ‘vertical migration’ starts deep in the waters of the ocean at sunset. As they move, the plankton eat bits of plant plankton and other marine life. This feeding concludes just before dawn when the plankton retreat to the depths of the ocean again to hide during daylight hours until the next evening, when they do it all over again – and migrate back up the water column. 

In Planktonia, ocean expert Erich Hoyt invites readers to dive into another world – the sparkling and dazzling realm of the ocean at night. Countless microscopic plankton – larvae-sized creatures such as ornate ghost pipefish, left-handed hermit crabs and bony-eared assfish – ascend to the ocean’s upper waters to feed, then return to the depths before sunrise. These tiny planktonic creatures would seem to have been designed in a glass factory – they are all so delicate and beautiful – some wouldn’t look out of place in a Halloween story – and mostly they change to become adults. This dynamic vertical migration attracts some larger creatures – the solitary 6-inch (15 cm) bigfin reef squid and the 6 1/2 foot (2 m) female blanket octopus! They are all hungry for a veritable midnight feast. 

Chapters in this book include:

  • Hawai’i: From Bluewater to Blackwater 
  • Awesome Anilao 
  • The Gulf Stream Procession of Life 
  • Blackwater White Sea 
  • Precious Life of Plankton 
  • Blackwater Unlimited 
  • From Blackwater Passion to Protection

Hoyt reminds us that all life in the ocean depends on plankton as crucial building-block species. Plankton also plays a key role in sequestering carbon against climate change. The above great nightly migration highlights the crucial need to protect all ocean species alongside ocean ecosystems that connect them up – including ocean processes from the depths of the sea to surface waters.

Discover Wildlife said: “One of the best books on marine realm – featuring stunning detailed images throughout, Hoyt’s latest book examines the nightlife of these tiny ocean plankton and the stories of the wildlife photographers that join them in darkness to capture their vertical migrations. ” Hakai Magazine recommended it thus:A great book to keep on hand – read it cover to cover or dip in now and then when you need a dose of nature’s dazzle. ” 

Erich Hoyt is a present-day, real life ‘aqua-man’ who has spent much of his life on or beside the sea. He has worked with whales and dolphins, and undertaken a wide range of marine conservation and holds a number of key positions within the IUCN, being co-chair of the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force and a member of several IUCN Commissions. A noted conservationist and scientist, he has written 24 books, including the acclaimed Orca: The Whale Called KillerCreatures of the DeepEncyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins and PorpoisesStrange Sea Creatures; and the children’s book Weird Sea Creatures. He lives in Dorset, UK.

Hoyt, E. (2022). Planktonia: the nightly migration of the ocean’s smallest creaturesFirefly Books, Limited. ISBN: 9780228103837. Hardcover, 176 pages. £25.76.

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