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500 species found in census of marine life

500 species found in census of marine life

500 species found in census of marine life
Photos of newly discovered marine species
Rhett Butler,
December 10, 2006

Some 500 previously unknown species of marine life were discovered during the latest Census of Marine Life (CoML), a research effort involving some 2000 researchers from 80 countries. The discoveries, made during 19 ocean expeditions in 2006, included a gigantic 1-centimeter in diameter single-celled organism in the Nazare Canyon off Portugal, a “blonde-haired” lobster near Easter Island, a “chewing” squid, and a four-pound (1.8 kg) lobster off Madagascar.

“Each Census expedition reveals new marvels of the ocean — and with the return of each vessel it is increasingly clear that many more discoveries await marine explorers for years to come,” said Fred Grassle, Chair of the Census Scientific Steering Committee.

Now in its sixth year, the Census is working to record the diversity, distribution, and abundance of global marine life. Among its many findings in 2006:

While the census found hundreds of previously unknown species — including 150 species of fish — the researchers behind the project also found evidence that marine biodiversity is in decline due to human influences.

“The historical studies of the CoML agree with recent studies showing steep declines of most wild populations of marine animals that people eat,” says Grassle.

According to a CoML news release, researchers “reconstructed the changing abundance of marine life in 12 estuaries and coastal seas around the world. In archives from Roman times in the Adriatic Sea, the medieval era in Northern Europe, to Colonial times in North America and Australia, they confirmed the fears that exploitation and habitat destruction depleted 90 percent of important species. They also confirmed elimination of 65 percent of seagrass and wetland habitat, a 10 to 1,000-fold degradation of water quality, and accelerated species invasions.”

“The past richness of the oceans in many near shore regions is hard for people today to believe,” added Grassle.

Despite the declines, the census says that the research will help humans better utilize marine resources going forward.

“The dream of abundant and sustainable stocks of commercial fish is now one step closer, thanks to this Census of Marine Life program. The new data reveal for the first time those zones of the ocean where we have the highest leverage for conservation and thus smarter fishing,” said D. James Baker, President of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

CoML found that marine preservation efforts are working in some areas, with “signs of transitions from degradation to recovery where conservation was implemented during the 20th century.”

Looking towards 2010, CoML seeks to have completed an initial census describing what lived, now lives, and will live in the oceans.

“The vast expanse of the oceans, the rarity of some animals, their movements, and fluctuations challenge Census researchers. Happily, the astonishing progress of the past six years shows the community will create the first-ever Census of Marine Life in 2010,” said Jesse Ausubel, a program manager for the Sloan Foundation, a Census sponsor.

“Together, we can see the wonders of the ocean and excite the world to preserve and increase them,” added Ron O’Dor, CoML Senior Scientist

This article is based on a news release from CoML.

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