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Signs of Life ??

611 Views 5 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  John Gulliver
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Seeing as we always seem to get caught up in long lamentations about the general destruction of the marine environment in which we dive and thrive, it's promising to see A) such a piece of work being carried out (i.e. some might just care enough), and B) that the results are so multifarious in number and diversity that this can surely only be encouraging??

If you think that the number of land-lubber or airborne species known to man (which runs into the billions), insects, mammals, birds etc. lives on only three-tenths of the surface known planet, and then conside that we have only scraped the surface in our knowledge of what lives in our the seas & oceans - which cover the other seven-tenths of the plant's surface - then you can, maybe, see the news below as a signal that there is more to our bio-diversity (and more to discover/see) than we might possibly ever know. This news makes me hopeful at least.

Billion dollar hunt for 2m species under the sea
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
(Filed: 24/10/2003)

The total number of species in the world's oceans could be more than two million, according to scientists working on a billion-dollar international effort to document all marine life.

The first phase of the Census of Marine Life has recorded 15,304 species of fish and roughly 210,000 marine species of all types. But the total number could be up to 10 times bigger.

Leading scientists from the census met at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington yesterday to discuss the 10-year effort to create a comprehensive portrait of ocean life. It names about 160 new fish species each year.

They want to set the priorities for the next seven years of research, for example electronic tags tracking species by satellite, robot submarines filming them, and "landers" monitoring them from the ocean floor.

On a practical level, the census aims to identify threatened species and important breeding areas, and to help fisheries authorities to manage the sea's resources.

"This is the start of the first great voyage of discovery of the 21st century," said Prof 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."

The oceans are mostly unexplored and little is known about their life, said Dr Ronald O'Dor, the census's chief scientist. "We reckon only a tenth of a per cent of the ocean has been sampled."


Secrets of the deep
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
(Filed: 24/10/2003)

Discoveries during the first three years of the Census of Marine Life include:

Around 10 miles off the Florida Keys scientists found a new species of sponge - bright red and nicknamed the "rasta sponge". Its chemical compounds may help to treat cancers.

Deep-sea researchers exploring the abyssal sediments off Angola found more species per area than in any other known aquatic environment on Earth.

About 80 per cent of the collected species were new to science (more than 500 suspected new species have been recognised in samples so far, with a final total of 1,000 expected).

Underwater video technologies have revealed rich three-dimensional habitats formed by corals and sponges, replacing general beliefs that the deep sea was mostly mud.

Scientists yesterday premiered video footage of life in the mid Atlantic at the unprecedented depth of 2.7 miles. The images were captured in June by Census scientists in the MAR-ECO Project, the first to explore the depths of the "Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone" in the North Atlantic.

Scientists suspect that fish indigenous to one side of the Atlantic may be using extinct undersea volcanoes as stepping stones to migrate to the other side.

In just three cubic meters of a coral reef off New Caledonia in the South Pacific, some 130,000 molluscs were found belonging to 3,000 species.

Micro organisms in the oceans make up for their minute size by their numbers. The 1,030 types of microbe in the ocean comprise more than 90 per cent of the mass of all living things in the oceans. Half of Earth's oxygen is created by photosynthesis in these microbes.

Every species of large wild fish has been caught so extensively over the past 50 years that 90 per cent of each type have disappeared.

Census research suggests that by the year 1600 the level of fishing in Northern Europe was already having a huge impact. The herring catch had reached 100,000 tons per year and quintupled well before 1900; in the 1960s and 1970s the fishery was closed altogether.

Following measures to restore the herring fishery, the annual catch is now 307,000 tons.

Further reading about the 'Cencus of Marine Life' can be found here:


Picture below is of a group of sunflower sea stars [Pycnopodia helianthoides]
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Not only is it the number of species yet to be discovered but also their means of existence. Arguably one of the most facinating marine life discoveries of recent times are the unique ecosystems which exist around the deep ocean thermal vents. The vents release hydrogen sulphide which specialized bacteria can use to generate energy, thereby replacing the need for sunlight.  THe tube worms (see pic) so charateristic of the deep sea vents  rely entirely on these bacteria for their nutrition. The implication of life-without-sunlight for the continuation of life on earth in the event of a major catastrophe, and the postulation of life on other planets, is  impossible to overstate, truly amazing.

BTW, there is a current anti-cancer drug , Bryostatin, which is derived from a marine bryozoan, the colonial growths which can be seen encrusting kelp and rocks around our shores. Also  the Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis which I guess most of us hve seen around the uk, has yeilded a chamical from its eggs which is also being worked upon as an anti-cancer treatment (at Newcastle).

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And our Seasearch dives off the Kent coast are sure to find several new species as well

Dive Safe

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On a side note, blue sunflower sea stars??? They look very much like Crossaster papossus, apart from the colour. Where do they occur?
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Bit of a tangent but... when the G6 (now G7) countries met in... I think it was Rio in the 90's, and made some form of agreement about protecting the environment and threatened species, I believe it was sold to them on the basis of "loss of potential new medical treatments derived from as yet undiscovered or unexploited flora and fauna...".    Marine species are touted to be the most likely sources of such new treatments (see the examples above).
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The same argument has been used for conservation of the tropical rain forests but, unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have carried much weight.
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