Plankton at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve


The word “plankton” means drifter, and refers to plants or animals that aren’t strong enough to swim against a current. These plants and animals are among the most numerous life forms on the planet. Because of their importance to all other life forms, plankton are an important part of the curriculum we provide to thousands of students who come to Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center.

Phytoplankton, or plant plankton, are one of the major bases of the food web in the estuary. It is also responsible for producing more than 80% of Earth’s oxygen!

Phytoplankton range in size from a single cell to larger individuals like diatoms which have a silica shell and come in a range of shapes. Our nets are specifically designed to catch larger organisms, usally zooplankton, or drifting animals.

Zooplankton consist of a wide variety of animals. Some remain in their planktonic state for their entire lives, like copepods or sea jellies (jellyfish), while others grow and change form to things we are much more familiar with like barnacles, crabs and many species of fish.

Where to Find

Plankton can be found in almost any body of water.
View the video below to see live plankton through a microscope!

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