Tuesday, October 5, 2010

84. First Marine Census Completed, Revealing a World of Wonders, Commercial Destruction

By John Collins Rudolf, The New York Times, October 4, 2010
After a decade of research and more than 540 ocean expeditions, scientists presented the world with the first-ever census of marine life on Monday. The census involved the work of 670 institutions and 2,700 researchers and made direct observation of 120,000 marine species, including some 6,000 newly discovered species.
“We’re like the people in London and Paris 200 years ago, putting together the first dictionaries and encyclopedias,” Jesse H. Ausubel, co-founder of the census project and a professor of environmental studies at the Rockefeller University in New York, said in an interview. “Ten years ago, there was simply no list anywhere of the world’s marine species.”
The project has conclusively overturned a once-common belief that the open ocean and deep seafloor were relatively barren. “There are no ocean deserts,” Mr. Ausubel said. “Everywhere we looked we found life.”
The census also documented the wide travels of some species, which can migrate thousands of miles across the globe, and rise and descend thousands of feet of ocean in a single day. The world’s polar oceans, meanwhile, were found to be important “incubators” for new species.
The project brings the estimate of known marine species to nearly 250,000, a figure that still represents only a fraction of the species that inhabit the seas. The full number of species could be nearly one million, researchers said. If microscopic life like bacteria and viruses are included, that number could be in the hundreds of millions, or billions.
One of the most remarkable new species uncovered by researchers during the census is the so-called “yeti crab” from the Pacific Ocean south of Easter Island, which features long, extravagantly furry claws.
“It looks like it’s wearing big white mittens that look like they belong in Aspen during ski season,” Mr. Ausubel said.
With the human influence on the oceans only accelerating, the marine census helps establish a baseline to judge the impact of industrial fishing, pollution and the changes brought about by steadily warming ocean waters.
Already, the abundance of most large species — from sea turtles to tuna — has dropped by 90 percent or more, the survey found.
“We hope that the 21st century will be the era of the great restoration of sea life,” Mr. Ausubel said.

==> For a New York Times slide show click here.

No comments: