all the fish in the sea

Do you think getting a head count of all the people living in the United States is hard? Try doing a census on everything that lives in the world’s oceans. The Census of Marine Life is a massive, billion-dollar, 10-year-long scientific collaboration involving more than 50 countries and hundreds of scientists that will attempt to identify and catalog life in the ocean. After three years of work, the first report was issued last week in Washington. More than 15,000 species of marine fish are now included in the census, but, according to the researchers, some 5,000 previously unknown ocean fish species are yet to be discovered. Currently 210,000 total species of marine life are known, but the scientists estimate that the actual number could be up to 10 times higher. More than identifying new species, the census is also tracking fish migration patterns, examining the degradation of coral reef ecosystems, and discovering areas that are aquatic-biodiversity hotspots. Despite its enormous importance to humans, much of the ocean remains unexplored and relatively little is known about its inhabitants. “This is the start of the first great voyage of discovery of the 21st century,” stated J. Frederick Grassle of Rutgers University, chairman of the Census Scientific Committee. “More importantly, it begins the first systematic global effort to measure our oceans’ vital signs, and guide what must be done to reverse their decline.”

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 10/28/2003.
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