After centuries of scientific study across the Earth's numerous vast and varied ecosystems, it might seem that there would be little left to discover in terms of biological diversity -- but, as a recent expedition studying life in the world's oceans proves, we may have only really scratched the surface.
For two and half years, the crew of the French vessel Tara surveyed the ocean depths for new lifeforms, and boy did they find plenty. According to researchers, their exploration yielded a more than a million preciously undiscovered aquatic species -- ranging from several new types of fish and squid, to a multitude of microscopic organisms, like plankton.Previously, scientists believed there to be around 500 thousands species of plankton, organisms responsible for producing most of the planet's oxygen; thanks to this study, that number has doubled.
While the new discoveries are an encouraging sign that life on Earth is even more diverse than once imagined, for the crew aboard Tara not everything they found during their 70,000 mile expedition came as a welcome sight.
In addition to new species, scientists turned up thousands of fragments of plastic per square mile in the waters off of Antartica -- a troubling indicator that harmful pollution has reached some of the remotest corners of our planet.
"These fragments can cause serious damage to the ecosystem by releasing toxins into the food chain and being eaten by fish, sea mammals and sea birds that think that it is jellyfish," said a spokesperson from London’s Science Museum, where the results of the study were announced.
“Because the southern ocean phytoplankton is so important for regulating the wellbeing of our planet by removing CO2 from the atmosphere and generating oxygen for us to breathe, this news from the Antarctic is particularly alarming."