Oceanic Plant Adaptations: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Sarah Caughron

Sarah has a master's degree in Applied Anthropology/Archaeology and has worked in formal and informal education since 2006.

You've observed plants like grass, flowers, and trees that grow in dirt outside your home or school. Did you know that some plants have special traits that allow them to grow in the ocean? Read on to learn more about how these plants survive.

What Are Oceanic Plants?

Oceanic plants are plants that live in or near the ocean and are a vital food source for many animals that live in the ocean. Since oceans makes up more than 50% of the Earth's surface, you can imagine how important this resource is!

Surviving in the Ocean

Oceanic plants face special challenges. For example, all plants are autotrophs, which means they make their own food. Unlike you and your friends who eat food from stores and restaurants, a plant makes its own food though a chemical process called photosynthesis. That means that the plant uses light from the sun and turns that energy into food. For plants that live on land, this is easy to achieve because they can find a nice, sunny spot to live, but for plants that live in the ocean, finding sunlight can be a bit trickier.

Rough waves are no match for seaweed
Seaweed on Rock

Ocean waves and currents can also make it tricky to be a plant. Imagine being a plant trying to stay in one place near the surface of the water to reach sunlight while you are being tossed around by strong ocean waves! It would be really difficult, and if you were an ocean plant you would need adaptations to help you survive in this environment. Adaptations are special traits or features that plants and animals have that help them survive in their specific environments.

We know that oceanic plants need to be able to find a stable place in the ocean in order to access sunlight to create food from photosynthesis. To do this, many oceanic plants have adapted to have special roots that aren't as thick as a land plant's roots since they're in different soil.

Types of Oceanic Plants

This illustration shows examples of the roots and shapes of various marine plants.
Marine Plant Illustration

Oceanic plants are generally put into two categories: algae and seaweeds/leafy plants. Phytoplankton falls under the algae category, and it's the most common ocean plant. The sheer abundance of this plant is an adaptation that helps it survive. It's also microscopic, and is the primary producer in the food chain, which means that many ocean-dwelling animals rely on phytoplankton to live.

Phytoplankton and other types of algae float on the surface of the ocean. There's more sunlight at the surface of the ocean, so the ability to float freely is an advantage and considered an adaptation. And they can live in many different temperature and climate regions, which is also an adaptive advantage.

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