Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November 30, 2010 : Census of Marine Life

Census of Marine Life

The first Census of Marine Life produced the most comprehensive inventory of known marine life ever compiled and cataloged it as a basis for future research—28 million records and counting! This first baseline picture of ocean life—past, present, and future—can be used to forecast, measure, and understand changes in the global marine environment, as well as to inform the management and conservation of marine resources. The Census investigated life in the global ocean from microbes to whales, from top to bottom, from pole to pole, bringing together the world’s preeminent marine biologists, who shared ideas, data, and results. During their 10 years of discovery, Census scientists discovered new species, habitats, and connections and unlocked many of the ocean’s long-held secrets. They found and formally described more than1, 200 new marine species, with another 5,000 or more in the pipeline awaiting formal description. They discovered areas in the ocean where animals congregate, from white shark caf├ęs in the open ocean to an evening rush hour in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge to a shoal of fish the size of Manhattan off the coast of New Jersey, USA. They unearthed a rare biosphere in the microbial world, where scarce species lie in wait to become dominant if change goes their way, and found species believed to reside at both poles. While unlocking many secrets, investigators also documented long-term and widespread declines in marine life as well as resilience of the ocean in areas where recovery was apparent.

Along with secrets came surprises. The existence of giant mats of microbes, ranked among Earth’s largest masses of life, a Jurassic shrimp (Neoglyphea neocaledonica) thought to have been extinct 50 million years ago, and multi-cellular animals (three species of the animal phylum Loricifera) thriving without oxygen at sea bottom, where only microbes were thought to survive, were but a few of the astonishing discoveries over the decadal study.

Along with surprises came extremes. Census scientists, for example, uncovered the deepest, hottest, most northerly and most southerly hydrothermal “black smoker” vents known to science, found the world’s largest biotic ecosystem created by a single type of organism, and traveled along as a sooty shearwater chased endless summer on its 64,000-kilometer (40,000-mile) pole-to-pole journey. Scientists also reported the existence of everything from a giant squid to 38,000 different kinds of bacteria in a liter of seawater. The implications of these discoveries reveal the extent of the unknown.

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: Oceana

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