The symbol of the Arctic is often the polar bear, the pole's cute yet fearsome top predator. These large marine mammals, who move easily between ice, water and land, are part of the diverse fauna of the Arctic Ocean.
What keeps this marine ecosystem going are organisms you can't see with the naked eye: microscopic phytoplankton and ice algae. Come March, the sun rises low in the Arctic horizon, and it won't set until six months later in September. During this bright period, Arctic algae and phytoplankton kick into overdrive, using photosynthesis to use the 24-hour sunlight to make food.
This explosion of life supports the entire food web for the whole year—from soft corals on the seafloor to the arctic foxes on the ice. The blooms of algae and phytoplankton feed zooplankton and larger predators, which are themselves in turn eaten, and so on up the food chain. When uneaten organisms die, they sink to the seafloor, feeding fish, seastars, soft corals, and other organisms in deeper water.
The sun-fed plankton are also important for the indigenous peoples of the Arctic who get food and clothing both from the sea (walrus, narwhals, beluga, other whales, polar bear, and fish) and the land (caribou, reindeer and musk-ox). Without phytoplankton and algae, the large marine animals would not have food to eat.