Ocean May Hold 750,000 Species Not Yet Discovered

marine life census photo
Photo: MAR-ECO/Oystein Paulsen, Courtesy of the Census of Marine Life

Sure, you've heard there are plenty of fish in the sea -- but according to biologists there may be even more than you ever imagined, many more. After ten years mapping the ocean's biodiversity in the most comprehensive marine life censuses ever undertaken, researchers have arrived at a humbling conclusion: they definitely didn't count them all -- not by a long-shot. While 250,000 marine species were counted, researchers estimate that some 750,000 remain undiscovered. But if they're in hiding, it's hard to blame them. Human activity may mean many ocean species will go extinct before meeting the land lovers who caused their demise.
According to a report from The Telegraph, the Census of Marine Life will officially close Monday after a decade of recording some quarter-million species. During the census, scientists discovered around 6,000 new species -- many of them quite bizarre -- though they admit, it's really just the tip of the iceberg. But recording all the species that live in the world's oceans may be logistically impossible, not to mention a race against the clock.

An excerpt from the Census:

Marine scientists are at present unable to provide good estimates of the total number of species that flourish in the ocean. It will probably take at least another decade of the Census before we can defensibly estimate the total number of marine species.

Human activity, like overfishing and polluting the world's oceans, continually threaten the existence of numerous undersea species, many of which have yet to be discovered -- not to mention the livelihoods of those who work the sea. "Over exploitation, habitat loss and pollution have depleted many fisheries that previously provided food and employment," reads the census.

The Census of Marine Life is the largest undertaking of its kind, involving over 2,700 researchers and hundreds of underwater explorations. Whereas the deep sea floor was once thought to be particularly devoid of life, a closer look found the opposite to be true. Because these regions of the ocean are so difficult to reach for scientists, it is only possible for them to make an estimate about the number of organisms they failed to come across.

"Life is much more widespread on the ocean floor than was thought," Maria Baker, who worked on the Census, told The Telegraph. "We still don't know how it spreads from vent to vent, but there could be stepping stones all over the place provided by food that falls from the water above."

The Census reinforces what many researchers, like Baker, had suspected -- that when it comes to understanding the scale of biological diversity on the planet, scientists have hardly scratched the surface. "It is showing us that we still have no idea of exactly what we are sharing our planet with."

More on the Census of Marine Life
Historic Marine Life Census Counts Over 250000 Species
5000 Amazing New Undersea Species Discovered in Marine Census
Photos of Strange Deep Sea Creatures from Marine Census Beyond Sunlight

Related Content on Treehugger.com