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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Result of Decade-long Global Research Programme on Marine Biodiversity

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Culminating a 10-year exploration, 2,700 scientists from 80 nations report first Census of Marine Life

A report on the decade –long census of marine life which has been the largest Global Research Programme on Marine Biodiversity, has been released recently. It has been the largest Global Research Programme on Marine Biodiversity. The report declares that over 1 million marine species survive today. The census team comprised more than 2,700 scientists from over 80 countries and 640 participating institutions and the survey continued through 540 expeditions at sea for 9000 days. The team of scientists concluded that marine biodiversity of the earth richer, “more connected, and more altered than expected. A total investment of $650 million and $75 million from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation was made of this global survey of marine life. According to a release, the census establishes a baseline against which 21st-century changes can be monitored.

As per PLoS ONE: Marine Biodiversity and Biogeography – Regional Comparisons of Global Issues (2010) PLoS-through a global network of researchers in more than 80 nations, the Census of Marine Life (2000-2010) has engaged in a coordinated scientific program to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of life in the oceans. One approach was a review of the known with a discussion of the unknown. As part of this effort, participating nations and regions generated new syntheses of marine biodiversity knowledge in their adjacent waters. These summaries are collected here. Each paper describes the physical, geological, chemical, and biological characteristics of the region, provides a brief history of research and species discovery, and gives insight into the role of Census activities in promoting and synthesizing this information. These articles bring together teams of regional experts to identify strengths and gaps in taxonomic capacity and ecological knowledge, potential focal areas for biodiversity research, and threats to marine biodiversity that span fishing disturbance, habitat destruction, invasive species, pollutants, and climate change. They provide species inventories and document patterns of endemism within different taxa, and they identify biogeographic regions and taxonomic groups with the greatest potential to yield new discovery. Individually these articles provide insights that can reveal regional needs and promising directions for future research; collectively they establish a baseline for further global assessments and identify mechanisms for future international collaboration.

The Global Marine Survey helped the scientists to discover and describe more than 1200 marine species and collection of about 5000 new species. Besides these, a number of microbe species are yet to be described. It is important to note that a total of 2, 50,000 species has already been described in science literature.
Some of the newly discovered species are –
  1. A crab found in the south of Easter Island. It is so unusual that the scientists kept it in a new family of crabs named “kiwidae” named after mythological “kiwa – the Polynesian Goddess of Shellfish.
  2. A blind lobster, a new species of shrimp which is a finned octopod which flaps a large pair of ear like fins to swim. It has been designated as Hippolyte catagrapha – a finned Octopod.
  3. A squid worm which was collected from the Celebes Sea in South East Asia.
  4. A vent snail inhabiting deep sea hydrothermal vents and harbouring chemoautotrophic symbionts in its gills. It was found near the vent of Tokyo and is only one discovered to date.
  5. Up to 1 billion marine microbes.
It has been reported that about 80% of the species have been discovered from the Australian region alone.

It is also reported that 70% species from Japan, 75% species from the Mediterranean deep sea, 58% species from the Antarctica, 38% species from Southern Africa and 10 % from Europe have yet to be described by the team of scientists so far. The marine highways and rest stops have also been mapped by the survey team.

The blue finned tuna which migrates from Western United States and Japan three times in a single year was also traced by the surveying scientists. They also traced the path of one grey headed albatross that flew around the world in just 46 days.

Image 1: Blue finned Tuna Fish ( source- Greenpeace)

The scientists of the survey team explored the 10,000 m Mariana Trench found in the South East of Japan. They also told about what, where, and how many species lived and hide in the global oceans.Alok Jha from The Hindu, India’s National News Paper in English writes9Aug. 5 , 2010) -The survey covers “from coast to the open ocean, from the shallows to the deep, from little things like microbes to large things such as fish and whales,” said Patricia Miloslavich of Universidad Simon Bolivar, Venezuela, the co-senior scientist of the COML.

More than 360 scientists have spent the past decade surveying 25 regions.

The results show that around a fifth of the world's marine species are crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters, krill and barnacles. Add molluscs (squid and octopus) and fish (including sharks) and that accounts for up to half the species in the seas.

The charismatic species often used in conservation campaigning — whales, sea lions, turtles and sea birds — account for less than 2 per cent.

The surveys have also highlighted areas of concern for conservationists.

“In every region they've got the same story of a major collapse of what were usually very abundant fish stocks or crabs or crustaceans that are now only 5 per cent-10 per cent of what they used to be,” said Mark Costello of the Leigh Marine Laboratory, University of Auckland.

The Front Page story published in The Hindu on October 5, 2010 says- Ian Pioner, chairman of the census steering committee said, “this cooperative international 21st century voyage has systematically defined for the first time both the known and the vast unknown, unexplored ocean. The beauty, wonder and importance of marine life are hard to overstate.”

He added that all surface life depends on life inside and beneath the oceans. Sea provides half our oxygen, a lot of our food and regulates the climate. “We are all citizens of the sea.”

The census has enabled mankind to be better acquainted with our fellow travellers of the sea and their vast habitat on this globe, he said.

“These are largely due to over-harvesting and poor management of those fisheries. That's probably the biggest and most consistent threat to marine biodiversity around the world.” The main threats include overfishing, degraded habitats, pollution and the arrival of invasive species.

But more problems loom: rising water temperatures and acidification thanks to climate change and the growth in areas of the ocean that are low in oxygen and, therefore, unable to support life.

Most diverse regions
The most diverse regions identified by the COML are around Australia and south-east Asia. “It's also a hotspot for terrestrial biodiversity and this has been known for about 100 years,” said Costello.
“It looks like that region with the coral reefs has always had a very high rate of speciation. It also has a very diverse range of habitats — from the deepest areas of the oceans to large areas of shallow seas, which can support coral reefs.”

Australian and Japanese waters contain more than 30,000 species each. Next in line are the oceans off China, the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. 

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