All of you know what earth is. Many of you know what phytoplankton are. Some of you know what a diatom is. But what in the world is diatomaceous earth?! First, let’s define what the “diatom” in diatomaceous earth means: diatoms are microscopic phytoplankton, which are incredibly common in all bodies of water. This plankton has been an important part of the food chain and the earth for millions of years! When prehistoric diatoms would die, they would fall to the bottom of their habitats, be it rivers, lakes, oceans, or ponds. Diatom cell walls are made up of silica, and after millions of years of these little guys stacking up on each other, they formed white, chalky, silica deposits that we call diatomaceous earth.
On Catalina Island, we have these silica deposits located in some of our trails! In fact, if you have ever hiked our shrine loop, you can see some right from the trail. To look for diatomaceous earth, just look for white rock that is chalky and crumbly. This means that the land that you are hiking on was once underwater and surrounded by tiny phytoplankton! Whoa!
Now that we know what diatomaceous earth looks like, let’s learn about some of its uses. Scientifically speaking, it is amazing evidence that many islands came from the ocean and is a great indicator of how productive and nutrient-rich the oceans were at the time that these islands were formed. Today, humans have found a multitude of uses for this algae-turned-stone. One popular use is as an alternative to pesticides to kill insect pests. Diatomaceous earth can be easily ground into a powder and used to dehydrate insects as it can soak up moisture and oils from the insects’ exoskeletons. Furthermore, we use it many beauty products such as face washes and toothpaste as it is abrasive and can gently scrape off dead skin and plaque. Amazingly, this ancient algae chalk is edible! Farmers feed food-quality diatomaceous earth to their cows and other animals to combat parasites. We can eat this stuff as well. In fact many bakers put it in their bread, as it helps to preserve the grain. Many believe that this stuff makes you live a longer life by cleansing your colon and ridding you of parasites too!
All in all, diatomaceous earth is quite an incredible mineral. Millions of years ago this earthen material used to be alive and well, floating and producing oxygen in all the earth’s waters. Then when they died, they stacked up on each other and were transformed into an edible, bug killing, life lengthening rock that we can see on Catalina Island… how cool?!