To Boldly Go And Seek Out New Life In A Ten Year Mission
Abstracted from Sci-Fi today
Posted on Mon Oct 27th, 2003 at 06:50:30 AM PST


An estimated 5,000 previously unknown ocean fish species and hundreds of thousands of other marine life forms are yet to be discovered, according to scientists engaged in a massive global scientific collaboration to identify and catalog life in the oceans.

The new marine fish species, being identified at an average rate of 160 per year (roughly three new species per week since year 2000), are being catalogued and mapped by the Census of Marine Life (CoML), an unprecedented cooperative initiative involving leading marine scientists from every world region. The Census issued its first report after three years of work Oct. 23 at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.



More than 300 scientists from 53 countries are at work on the Census, designed to assess the diversity, distribution and abundance of ocean life and explain how it changes over time. The scientists, their institutions and government agencies are pooling their findings to create a comprehensive and authoritative portrait of life in the oceans today, yesterday and tomorrow.

Despite their importance for human well being, the oceans are mostly unexplored and little is known about the life they support, said Ronald O'Dor, chief scientist for the Census. "The enormous diversity of marine life is not only a crucial indicator of the condition of our oceans, it is key to sustaining them in a healthy state," he said.

"Increases in toxic compounds and temperature in the sea are occurring globally with consequences that are hard to predict," said Dr. O'Dor. "Accurate measures and predictions of species distribution, abundance and natural variation through time across a range of species are urgently needed to help policy-makers respond appropriately to the consequences of changes in the ocean."

 CoML deep-sea researchers exploring the abyssal sediments off Angola found an environment with more species per area than in any other known aquatic environment on Earth. About 80 % of the collected species were new to science (more than 500 suspected new species have been recognized in samples so far with a final total of 1,000 expected). The research will improve understanding of the relationship between deep-sea species diversity and the richness of food productivity in the water column and help predict the effects of global warming.

The Microscopic Microorganisms in the oceans make up for their minute size by their numbers. The 1030 microbe cells in the ocean comprise more than 90% of the mass of all living things in the oceans, and represent an amount of biomass 10,000 times greater than all the worldˇ¦s whales. Some 50% of earthˇ¦s oxygen is created by photosynthesis produced by ocean microbes.

Challenges ahead

For example, nearly 500 fish taxonomists work to classify and name fish in the world today. This is likely 10 times the number of taxonomists working on non-commercial marine groups like nematodes (worms consisting of an elongated stomach and reproduction system inside a resistant outer skin. A microscope is needed to see most nematodes, which measure between 400 micrometers to 5 mm.). Nematode taxonomists, even if working 10 times as fast as fish experts and given the benefit of todayˇ¦s information technologies, would need thousands of years to name most of the estimated 1 million unknown species.

"By the end of the 10-year Census initiative, we expect several results," says Jesse Ausubel, Program Director of CoML for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. "We will have identified many new species and will know with far greater precision how many remain undiscovered. "We will know better whether the size spectrum of animals in the ocean is changing: Are small animals replacing the large? We will know better how changes in the abundance of ocean life are shifting among major groups: Are jellies replacing fish? And we will know much better what we do not know - identifying the unexplored.

"Census of Marine Life sponsors:

Support for the Census of Marine Life comes from government agencies concerned with science, environment, and fisheries in a growing list of nations as well as from private foundations and companies. The Census is associated or affiliated with several intergovernmental international organizations including the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the UN, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, the UN Environment Programme and its World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, and the North Pacific Marine Science Organization. It is also affiliated with international nongovernmental organizations including the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research and the International Association of Biological Oceanography of the International Council for Science. The Census is led by an independently constituted international Scientific Steering Committee whose members serve in their individual capacities and a growing set of national and regional implementation committees.

Participating countries so far include: North America: Canada, US, Mexico, Bermuda South America: Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guiana, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina Asia and the Pacific: New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India Europe: Russia, Norway, Ireland, Iceland, UK, Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Germany, Denmark, Estonia Africa: South Africa, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles

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