These figures show the stark contrast between the marine ecosystem along the Ecuador and Peru coasts in normal (left) versus El Niño years (right). The warm, nutrient-poor surface waters brought by El Niños can sustain few phytoplankton, the tiny creatures that make up the base of the marine food web. As a result, fish, sea lions, and other sea animals must dive deeper in search of food. Sea birds scatter across the ocean, abandoning their young.

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