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Ocean Drifters

A secret world beneath the waves


Richard KirbyThis website supports the educational film Ocean Drifters, a secret world beneath the waves. Produced by Richard Kirby and about the marine plankton and their role in life on Earth, Ocean Drifters provides opportunities for study in the biological and earth sciences at Key Stages 3 and 4.

View Ocean Drifters Online

The Ocean Drifters film was made possible by funding from Carl Zeiss Ltd and the UK Natural Environment Research Council.

The DVD distribution of Ocean Drifters to schools was made possible by a grant from the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers.

The Ocean Drifters film is supported by the book Ocean Drifters, a secret world beneath the waves published by Studio Cactus Books ISBN-13: 978-1904239109

Received the DVD at your school? We'd love to know what teachers think in this Ocean Drifters survey.

OCEAN DRIFTERS describes how the PLANKTON underpins the marine food web, created our oil and gas, and shaped the landscape around us. Today, this secret world of life still creates 50% of the oxygen in the air we breathe, the clouds in the sky, and the smell of the seaside. Using remarkable imagery, Ocean Drifters reveals the central role these creatures play in the global carbon cycle, shaping life on Earth and influencing our lives in ways most of us never imagine. Now, rising sea temperatures due to climate change are altering the abundance, distribution, and seasonality of these remarkable creatures with ensuing ramifications for the marine food chain, commercial fisheries, human health, and the ecology of our entire planet.

Ocean Drifters is 16 minutes long and is accompanied by a clear narrative that describes the diversity, behaviours and adaptations of the plankton along with their role in the marine food web. Using photographs of the landscape around us that include the white chalk cliffs of the South Downs, Dartmoor's granite tors, and an erupting Icelandic volcano, the film also illustrates the role of the plankton in the global carbon cycle. The narration also introduces current topics in marine science, including ocean acidification and climate change. This web site provides some additional background material to support some of the scientific topics covered by the film. Further information can be found in the book, Ocean Drifters, a secret world beneath the waves.


The oceans cover approximately 70% of the Earth's surface and with an average depth of 3.7 km they are the largest biome on Earth.

The name 'plankton' is derived from the Greek word Planktos, which literally, means 'wanderer' or 'drifter' and so it includes all creatures, from the smallest free-living bacteria to the largest jellyfish, that cannot swim against a current.

The PLANKTON typically, float freely at the sunlit surface of the sea.

Without the plankton the oceans would be a barren wilderness, there would be no fish in the sea, we would have no reserves of oil or gas, and, through their role in the carbon cycle, the Earth's climate would be quite different.

Topics covered include