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Marine Census Nearing Completion

February 19, 2010

Leaders of the Census of Marine Life said on Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that in a decade-long search for new ocean life, thousands of new species have been discovered across the globe.

The research has involved thousands of scientists from every corner of the world.

As of last fall, the census reported having added 5,600 new ocean species to those already known.

Professor Ron O’Dor of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia told the Associated Press (AP) that there still may be as many as 100,000 species to discover — millions if you add in microbes.

Shirley Pomponi, executive director of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, Florida, told AP the effort has given researchers and scientists a “much clearer window into marine life.”

One benefit to learning more about ocean life is the chance of finding new medical breakthroughs, she added.

One breakthrough, was a chemical discovered in deep water sponges that is now a component of the cream used to treat herpes infections. Research is also under way on painkillers and cancer treatments based on marine life.

The research will also help governments find ways to set up marine protected areas to preserve ocean species, said Kristina Gjerde, of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, in Konstancin-Chylice, Poland.

The ocean is large and resilient, said O’Dor, and when a region becomes protected life has a chance to rebound.

While many people have become concerned about the future of the great white shark, many others feel they are a threat to humanity and need to be destroyed. O’Dor disagrees, reflecting on a marine census project that uses sonar trackers on fish and marine mammals. He noted than an Australian program senses those trackers and warns people when to close beaches due to nearby sharks. “We can coexist,” he said.

Huw Griffiths of the British Antarctic Survey said at the annual meeting that of the 8,000 species that make the Antarctic waters home, most of them live on the bottom, finding ways to survive the bitter cold. But global warming is altering conditions there, and species are beginning to feel the effect.

O’Dor, agreed with Griffiths, and added that squid formerly found in tropical areas are now migrating to polar regions as the climate shifts.

The decade-long work, which began in 2000, is scheduled to end with a final report on October 4 in London.

Image Caption: This blind lobster with bizarre chelipeds belongs to the very rare genus Thaumastochelopsis, previously known only from four specimens of two species in Australia. The specimen collected during AURORA 2007 from about 300m is a new species. Photo Tin-Yam Chan (National Taiwan Ocean University, Keelung)/Census of Marine Life

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