Research ship discovers 1.5 MILLION new species during “health check-up” of the world”s oceans
A research ship has discovered more than one million new species after trawling through the Atlantic, Pacific, Southern and Indian oceans.
The Tara Expedition took a 70,000-mile trek across the oceans over 36 months to discover the new creatures – many of which the French-based team credit with giving humanity the gift of oxygen, as the billions of tiny plankton present in our oceans provide much of the oxygen in our atmosphere.
The creatures will be unveiled tonight at a special exhibition at the Science Museum in London, after the ship docked back into London last week.
The team say the discoveries could change our understanding of climate change”s impact on the world”s oceans – and said their journey showed just how vulnerable the sea is due to man”s actions.
More than 30,000 samples of sea water were taken from a variety of spots across the planet, which led to the discovery of 1.5million species – ranging from the relatively large – 1cm in length – to the small, measuring just fractions of a millimetre.
This is Platynereis Dumerei: The crawling worms often live in small tubes – but occasionally swim freely
New discoveries: Diatoms (left) are a group of algae, and polychaetes (right) are a class of annelid worms, generally marine, with bristles that help propel them through the water
Theresearch provides a snapshot of marine micro-organisms – but points outhow much plastic we dump in the ocean, with up to 50,000 plastic fragments per square mile within the Atlantic.
Theseplastics will not break down for hundreds of thousands of years, and can enter the food chain through fish, seabirds and other marine animals. The toxins can poison the ocean, and also find their way into humans through seafood.
The 36-metre Tara schooner left Lorient in France in June 2009 and took samples up to a depth of 2,000 metres.
DrChris Bowler, the scientific co-ordinator of the expedition, told the Independent how the study provides a “snapshot and health check” of the world”s oceans.
He said: “Nobody has ever done this on the scale that we have before.
“Wewill be analysing results in the lab for a number of years. The task now is to understand the physical and climactic constraints that have created these ecosystems.
“How much is pollution affecting them, how much is temperature change affecting them”
A new species of shrimp, Emmanuel Reynaud, was discovered and will be catalogued, along with the 1.5million other lifeforms
A polychaeta – another type of worm that feeds on plankton within the ocean and (right) a new species of microscopic jellyfish floating under the waves
Bowler added: “Ifa species of plankton sensitive to temperature migrates, it could devastate that food chain and therefore local fisheries. We want to findout the role of each species within an ecosystem so that we can better predict what the oceans could be like in 50 or 100 years” time if we continue to change them.
“These include creatures that are incredibly important for generating oxygen. Half of the oxygen on the planet is produced by oceans – so every second breath that you take is oxygen from these organisms.
“The oceans are already acidifying – it will continue to happen if CO2 emissions continue to increase or even if they remain at the current rate.
“Thesemicroscopic organisms are very sensitive to acidification. There is a real concern that many of them could go extinct in years to come.”