Artwork By Lyla Elbaradie
Planet Earth, our home, our harbor of life. For 4.54 billion years, we have known Earth to be our one and only life support. Big, blue, round, with colossal lands and vast, desolate oceans, Earth is truly magnificent (National Geographic Society). Taking a closer look at our planet, we see blue tides gleaming just below the surface, as dolphins break the crystal waters. The surrounding blue is adorned with pods of spinner dolphins jumping, sparkling with the sun’s rays. Dive a little deeper, we can observe the dolphins detecting their prey, lanternfish. Hundreds of lanternfish litter the depths, small and measly, the perfect catch. The dolphins swoop in, working hand-in-hand, driving the fish from the depths to the surface, and the feast commences (Fothergill, 2019). So, have you ever wondered how these wondrously curious creatures are connected, or how we as humans come into play? Well, that is exactly what we will dive into!
Connections, unexpected relationships, are what form our kingdom of beings (Troyer, 2020). It’s an unforeseen web, forming and linking two completely different species. Picture this: a sunny day in the immense grasslands of Africa. A soft wind passes the golden grass, creating a beautiful swooshing wave. A herd of gazelles, with long horns, dark eyes, and slender bodies are grazing. A pack of lionesses now come into view, preparing for their hunt. They slowly approach, hiding in the grass, making use of two excellent hunting techniques: camouflage and stalking (How Lions Hunt Their Prey, 2019). Their swift bodies, covered in a short tawny coat, shine in the daylight. One lioness decides it’s time to pounce, and the herd of gazelles runs wildly, marking the start of this chase. The lions however, are in a pack and are here to support each other and work together. They hone in on the slowest of the gazelle herd. As it lags behind, they surround it and a lioness manages to lunge at the gazelle’s neck delivering a fatal blow (Miss Sunshine, 2018). The other lionesses aid in the process and dinner is served.
This might seem like a crazy, bizarre murder but the truth is that the future of prey is heavily influenced by predators. Eliminating predators might be seen as a good thing in the sense that “the big bad wolf” has left the premises and the piggies are now safe from chaos. However, ecologists beg to differ. Predator extinction means that prey numbers will increase explosively; this changes entire ecosystems. More life means overpopulation and more food demand (Fears, 2011). So, if this case was applied to the lions and gazelles, the gazelles would increase in number, consuming hefty amounts of foliage and grass. In turn, this would reduce the number of plants, thus affecting other plant-eating populations and the environment as a whole which is critical to us. This is just an example of one fragile, interrelated food chain but the reality is much more drastic. Lions have other prey. Studies have showcased that as a result of mass-hunting these majestic and crucial lions, disease-carrying olive baboons thrived and inched ever-closer to our land and crops (Fears, 2011). The cascade of negatives that follow after one hindrance is bizarre, unexpected and unimaginable. “The irony . . . is that we often cannot unequivocally see the effect of large apex consumers until after they have been lost and the ability to restore the species has also been lost.” states the Science Magazine report, “Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth.”
Animals’ dependence on one another, as well as the environment, mirror our needs as well. Surprisingly beautiful friendships can blossom between different organisms. This is also known as symbiosis. Visualize yourself traveling across the Nile River on a small, traditional, open-top wooden boat: a felucca. The water strikingly reflects the skies up above as a gentle summer breeze blows through your hair. The river is encompassed on either side by lands of dunes stretching beyond view. Just as you find yourself taking a deep breath in, you spot an enormous crocodile bathing in the sun. Huge, olive coloured, scaled and adorned with razor-sharp teeth, its mouth proudly open. It doesn’t pay you any mind and seems quite comfortable where it is as a little bird bravely picking at the menacing teeth. A bird? Could it be? The crocodile stands still but no biting action has ensued! Well, that represents the unique relationship between the two radically different creatures. Nile crocodiles need the bold Egyptian plover birds’ handy dentistry: cleaning its piercing teeth after a scrumptious meal. In turn, the crocodile is infection free and the exceptional bird gets a complimentary meal; quite the exemplary relationship (Symbiotic Relationships of the Bird World, 2018).
Our connections and interrelations are the foundation of the circle of life; the fact that we are all unified in one big, infinite loop (Williams). Yes, your memory from the lion king rings with an important, vital message; we are all linked, from the huge green timbre forests to the smallest of beings. No matter how small something is, it does have a great effect. Take phytoplankton for example. Phytoplankton are teeny, microscopic plants that drift in chasmic, aquamarine oceans. Millions of them can live in a single drop of water (Nelson). Tiny but mighty, these plants are the basis of each food chain. Phytoplankton combine nutrients from “marine manure” (a.k.a. fish poop) with energy from the sun to generate our distinct life support system: oxygen (Fothergill, 2019). We breathe it, we love it, and all of us depend on it. Inhale and exhale: that is how we all started our lives at birth. 70% of our oxygen originates from marine plants. The astounding phytoplankton alone provide oxygen for one in every five of your breaths. So, no matter where you are, you should take a moment to thank these exquisite little plants for their tremendous contribution.
Not only do these planktons produce oxygen, they also excrete minuscule particles that hold moisture from these profound depths. The captured droplets condense and combine to create cosmic clouds (Fothergill, 2019). These clouds storm through the skies on a noble quest to transport water. Electrically striking the world with thunderous shocks, they travel far and wide to release their rain, nourishing forests and plants alike with fresh water. These very forests are what account for one-third of our oxygen (Nelson).
However, with the human’s reign of terror, destroying and damaging habitats, burning and blazing fuel, cutting and hacking at trees, the climate has unquestionably changed. Co2 is a naturally occurring gas, however, in excess it ends up trapping too much of the sun’s blistering heat, a primary cause of global warming (Causes of Climate Change). Co2 levels have increased worryingly, heating up our planet, and driving climate change. Many organisms are consequently harmed including the substantial, life-bearing phytoplankton. Temperatures are rising and sea ice is melting. The ocean, now lacking it’s shield of ice from the wayward winter winds, undergoes deep mixing, dispersing the free-floating phytoplankton deeper into the water, thus preventing their access to sunlight (MacRae, 2020). Warmer temperatures also increase moisture; accordingly, abundant colossal clouds form drawing shadows on the sun, clouding its rays and limiting the phytoplankton’s light-dependent source of nutrition once again (MacRae, 2020).
This is only but a small example of the large-scale massacre occurring on our planet. More than 10 million tons of plastic pollute our oceans every year (Plastic Oceans). 15.3 billion trees are chopped down annually (Butler, 2015). Our precious planet is dying. We must make a difference and preserve what we have left of Earth to ensure that plants, animals and humans thrive. This isn’t a joking matter and our fate lies in what we decide to do next. We need to reduce, we need to reuse, and we need to recycle. We need to educate ourselves and educate others on the importance of protecting Earth (National Ocean Service). Go out, volunteer, clean up, and get involved. Try to control your use of plastic and instead invest in reusable products. Heck! Why not plant a tree! The Lorax would most definitely pride you on that. One, single tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year and just two mature trees can provide enough oxygen for a family of four (Helmenstine, 2019).
One may consider these minor changes insignificant but these seemingly small things can have a fundamental effect. Just like the minuscule planktons that cover boundless oceans giving life to all, you can make a difference no matter how small. So, why not? Why not be a part of the positive influence? Why not leave a good imprint? Together, we can do this. Let us guard our wonderful world; from plant, to prey, to predator, to a whole community, and from there the whole world.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not,” Dr Seuss.
Butler, R. (2015, September 2). How many trees are cut down every year? Mongabay Environmental News. https://news.mongabay.com/2015/09/how-many-trees-are-cut-down-every-year/
Causes of climate change. (n.d.). Climate Action – European Commission. Retrieved July 26, 2021, from https://ec.europa.eu/clima/change/causes_en
Fears, D. (2011, July 14). Decline of predators such as wolves throws food chains out of whack, report says. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/decline-of-predators-such-as-wolves-throws-food-chains-out-of-whack-report-says/2011/07/14/gIQAaeY1EI_story.html
Fothergill, A. (Executive Producer). (2019). Our Planet [Nature Documentary]. Netflix.
Helmenstine, A. (2019, November 19). How Much Oxygen Does One Tree Produce? ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-much-oxygen-does-one-tree-produce-606785#:%7E:text=%22A%20100%2Dfoot%20tree%2C,for%20a%20family%20of%20four.%22
How Lions Hunt Their Prey. (2019, August 30). Bali Safari Marine Park. https://www.balisafarimarinepark.com/how-lions-hunt-their-prey/
MacRae, G. (2020, April 16). Will Climate Change Threaten Earth’s Other ‘Lung’? The Revelator. https://therevelator.org/phytoplankton-climate-change/
Miss Sunshine. (2018, July 23). Lion Hunt Gazelle – Animal Kingdom | Lion Attack | Wild Life [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhC7K3WfKhM
National Geographic Society. (n.d.). Age of the Earth. (C) National Geographic Society. Retrieved July 26, 2021, from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/topics/resource-library-age-earth/?q=&page=1&per_page=25
National Ocean Service. (n.d.). Protecting Our Planet Starts with You. Retrieved July 25, 2021, from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/ocean/earthday.html
Nelson, D. (n.d.). Save the Plankton, Breathe Freely. National Geographic Society. Retrieved July 26, 2021, from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/activity/save-the-plankton-breathe-freely/
Plastic Oceans. (n.d.). Plastic Pollution Facts | PlasticOceans.org/the-facts. Retrieved July 26, 2021, from https://plasticoceans.org/the-facts/
Symbiotic Relationships of the Bird World. (2018, May 15). Sunny Sports Blog. https://www.sunnysports.com/blog/symbiotic-relationships-bird-world/
Troyer, M. (2020, November 24). 50 photos that show companionship in the animal kingdom. Stacker. https://stacker.com/stories/5165/50-photos-show-companionship-animal-kingdom
Williams, A. (n.d.). The Circle of Life. Understanding AG. Retrieved July 26, 2021, from https://understandingag.com/the-circle-of-life/