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phytoplankton are the unsung heroes of our planet. They are the primary producers that form the base of the oceanic food chain, serving as the first link in the conversion of sunlight and nutrients into biomass. They provide food for everything from krill to whales, and they are responsible for much of the oxygen present in our atmosphere (up to 50%). These tiny organisms drift through the world's oceans, driven by waves and currents. Individually they are difficult or impossible to see with the naked eye, but when massed together they can tint large areas of the ocean red, green or brown.

This online library contains photos and identifying features of phytoplankton species found in the waters of California, Oregon and Washington. Much of the information found on these pages comes from these sources as well as the tireless efforts of many researchers, students, and professors.

Enjoy!

Check It Out!

Tiny Drifters Exhibit

An artistic exploration of the beauty of phytoplankton

Phytoplankton Blog

View data from weekly phytoplankton sampling at the Santa Cruz Wharf and the Monterey Commercial Wharf

Red Tides and Harmful Algal Blooms

What's the difference?

This Phytoplankton Identification page is affiliated with CeNCOOS and HABMAP, and is maintained by the Kudela Lab at the University of California Santa Cruz. Details about site history, funding, and sources of information and images can be found here.