Interstitial live, within the sand in the oceans (III)
Sand beaches have the reputation of being a cosy place to relax for the elderly people and
for those with small children but at the same time - and for the same reasons -
are considered to be void of thrilling or interesting marine life.
This was our opinion as well before we began to screen sand samples
in search for the tardigrade Batillipes mirus (to be translated as
"mysterious shovel foot")
When judged with typical human superficiality ocean sand might be regarded just as a
big heap of basically identical tiny sand grains - interesting only for a few specialists,
like mineralogists or some of those strange esoteric egocentrics ...
Totally boring, isn't it?
But we had already pointed out in the last issue that this is really a question
of scale, of big and small dimension. Already at moderate magnification you will
come across bizarre foraminifera housings, jewel like diatoms, interesting
fragments of sea urchin stings and many other interesting details.
All those seemingly non-sand-objects are embedded within a colourful micro flora
revealing its mysteries only to the patient people among us. There are moments
when a simple sand grain appears like one of those fascinating reef aquariums.
But, sand collectors be warned, the colourful life within the sand grain is
strictly linked to the wet state - when dried most of it will die and vanish.
As a consequence further inverstigation might be restricted to the dead remains
of the previous "micro reef".
In particular the Baltic Sea, locus typicus of our shovelfoot tardigrade
Batillipes mirus , is thought to be less interesting than the "real oceans".
Some people even venture to say that it is not a real ocean, when considering
its maximum depth of about 100 m and its low salt content - a close to sterile
ocean, more or less a freshwater pond with some seasalt added?
Though some of the arguments might be correct the conclusion is wrong.
As we have pointed out, a simple dissecting microscope will reveal a tremendous
species variety also in the Baltic sea. Just give it a try and have a look
at the sand using moderate (up to 30x) magnification.