Tiny oceanic creatures - Plankton

Don't let it's small size fool you, plankton are the ocean's microscopic but most important animals. The word plankton comes from the Greek word planktos, which means ‘wandering’ or ‘drifting’.

Apart from bacteria, planktonic organisms are the most abundant life form on Earth and play a crucial role in the marine food chain. Planktonic organisms are food for a range of animals from barnacles and sea squirts to large fish and whales. The largest fish in the world, the Whale Shark, is a plankton feeder as are many of the largest mammals on earth - whales.

Plankton ecosystems play an important role in the ocean’s carbon cycle. Zooplankton provide carbon to the food web through respiration and contribute to the ocean’s biomass when they die. Plankton are, in large part, why oceans are the largest carbon sink in the world. Plankton ecosystems also play a significant role in oxygen production, over half of the ocean’s oxygen production is produced through phytoplankton photosynthesis.

Without plankton, the Great Barrier Reef wouldn’t exist. It is the largest and most complex reef system in the world and many animals rely on plankton for food. Compared to the colourful reef, the surrounding bluewater zone may look empty and barren, but on closer inspection it is teeming with life: plankton.

About the Beyond the Reef exhibition images

Thirty-six stunning images produced by Peter Parks and his team at Image Quest 3-D, were exhibited in the Beyond the Reef exhibition.

Peter Parks says his "inspiration to take an interest in plankton" can be attributed to his old Marine Biology Professor Sir Alister Hardy, at Oxford University.

"Sir Alister Hardy was the United Kingdom's grand old man of the sea and I owe him so much for sparking that first ember of interest that grew to a continuously burning fascination with the subject for thirty-five years of my professional life".

As Managing Director of Oxfordshire based company Image Quest 3-D, Peter has contributed to and led over 25 major marine biological film expeditions, including the BBC's Blue Planet series. Image Quest now has studios in the United Kingdom and Bermuda and a well established relationship with the Australian Museum's Lizard Island Research Station. Peter and his team have spent over two years filming at the Research Station located on the Great Barrier Reef.

Much of Peter's recent work has been filming and photographing plankton in 3-D using camera and optical systems developed over the past 30 years. Many of these systems were designed by Peter and the Image Quest team in response to the challenges of working in open waters and high pressured, deep-sea environments. Peter and his team have also succeeded in what he describes as "the ultimate challenge, putting some of this exquisite marine wildlife onto the mighty Imax Screen in 3-D". Peter says "Only when plankton are seen in the third dimension do most of them make sense, so weird are their designs."

The work of Peter Parks at Image Quest has been instrumental in recording the enormous diversity of planktonic organisms. Plankton is crucial to the existence of the Great Barrier Reef. Without it, there would be very few living organisms on earth.