By Jeffrey the Barak
Sometimes, as humans, we measure the value or worth of a hapless animal by how much money we can get from it. A performing whale is worth millions of dollars in ocean zoo admission fees. A dairy cow is worth thousands of dollars in milk revenue, etc.
Of course this is not very fair to the animals, but we find ways to justify it, saying that the cows are bred to be cows and well looked after, and the whale was born in a tank and lives in a tank and would not survive in the real ocean.
But there is a little animal that is coming to our rescue without any direction from us. This little creature is responding to a warming climate by sequestering carbon and sinking it to the bottom of the ocean.
Our little friend has a heart, and pharynx, as well as a mouth, stomach, intestine and anus. he or she even has ovaries and testicles. Their ganglion is equivalent to a simple brain. Sometimes hard and colorful, sometimes gelatinous and barely visible, sometimes a slimy blob, these little friends are working very hard to clean up our mess.
Thank you, little brave tunicates, for your tireless round the clock work.
Sometimes they work alone, and sometimes they join together and form big colonies. They may be anchored to a single point like a plant, or they may roam free like the birds.
Tunicates eat animals, tiny ones that we know as various plankton, and they are themselves used as food for humans in adventurous places like Japan, where one tunicate, the Sea Pineapple, is farmed as a food source.
Some enterprising humans are using tunicates to produce biofuel, so that our little friends can help us drive our sedans and minivans around our cities.
So to climate. As the oceans warm we start to see algae blooms, and tunicates come and feast on this algae. The tunicates’ feces drop to the ocean floor and in doing so, take carbon out of the daylight region and down to the depths where is has less effect on climate. The carbon drops out of the carbon cycle in this way.
This all sounds too good to be true, so I invite you to first look up tunicates on Wikipedia, and then do a Google image search to see how stunning some species of tunicates can appear. Consider this short article to be your introduction to our friends the tunicates.