Plankton of the Salish Sea: the basis of the food chain – Chandler Colahan, Educator, Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

Class Description: Though we all love the colorful sea stars and frolicking otters, it’s the tiny world below that keeps our Salish Sea ticking. Learn about the hidden majority of life that flourishes in our local waters and beyond. In this recorded talk, we explore the secret world of plankton and look at how these microscopic organisms play vital roles in the ecosystems of the Salish Sea.  

Speaker: Chandler Colahan is the education specialist at Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Bayview, WA. She has been an environmental and marine educator for more than twenty years. Chandler has a BA degree in Ocean Science, Education, and Creative Expression from Western Washington University, Fairhaven College. She also spent many years researching plankton and jellyfish at Shannon Point Marine Center. When she is not exploring the mudflats with students, you can often find Chandler exploring the waters of the Salish Sea looking for wildlife. 


  • Marine Algae and Plankton  from the Washington Department of Ecology
  • The Secret Life of Plankton – Approx 6 minutes video. New videography techniques have opened up the oceans’ microscopic ecosystem, revealing it to be both mesmerizingly beautiful and astoundingly complex. Marine biologist Tierney Thys created a film to ignite wonder and curiosity about this hidden world that underpins our own food chain. 
  • Nature Works, from New Hamphire PBS: Plankton (try clicking on the krill image)
  • Evergreen University – Visualizing Microbial Seascapes course on integrating art, animation, video and science of phytoplankton – pick one and learn all about it.
  • Globe Scientists’ Blog: Plankton: a small, but important, player in life on Earth, includes info on tools to study plankton, Secci Disk and Plankton Net


  • NASA Earth Observatory: ‘What are phytoplankton?’ covers the food web, climate, carbon cycle and shows plankton carried on global currents, visible from space.
  • Australian Museum ‘Beyond the Reef’ exhibition with amazing images of  plankton
  • Study guide – questions to consider before coming to class

Video Recordings from the Past

Chandler Colahan’s 2022 presentation is contained within part 1 of May 5, 2022 class recording (ie it is not a stand-alone).

2020 video was recorded for the SWS Class of 2020. Use the study guide to get more out of the 2020 recording. 

  • Study Guide Key.
  • Study Guide in Word.
  • Password is SWS2020

More Classes on this day

Eelgrass & Estuaries – Susan Wood
6-15-2023: Estuaries are some of the most productive places on earth, and the Salish Sea is no exception. Eelgrass, one of its most
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