The results of the first ever global marine life census have been published in London after a decade of research conducted by 2700 scientists.
Over a million different species are believed to exist in the world's oceans
In what has been described as one of the largest scientific collaborations ever conducted, researchers spent more than 9,000 days at sea on hundreds of expeditions to draw up a reliable picture of the contents of the world’s oceans.
The results were presented in three books, along with maps, in London on Monday.
The Census of Marine Life, which aimed to find out what used to live in our seas, what lives there now and what might live there in the future, established that they contain more than one million species, only 200,000 of which had been previously listed in the World Register of Marine Species.
The study described the findings as having painted "an unprecedented picture of the diversity, distribution and abundance of all kinds of marine life in Planet Ocean – from microbes to whales, from the icy poles to the warm tropics, from the tidal near shores to the deepest darkest depths."
What is clear from the document was that life in the murky depths is far less understood than had been expected. It estimates that there are 5,000 new species identified in the census, which are yet to be described by scientists.
And it was not only the quantity of sea creatures that researchers were interested in, but their behavioral patterns as well. Scientists were able to use sound, satellites and electronics to track salmon and other migratory animals, and to watch the assembly and movement of schools of fish.
A future reference
The Census of Marine Life, which cost 470 million euros ($650) provides a point of reference from which it will be possible to continue monitoring change throughout the 21st century.
It also marks out the least explored areas of the ocean.
"This cooperative international 21st century voyage has systematically defined for the first time both the known and the vast unknown, unexplored ocean," Ian Poiner, chair of the Census Steering Committee said.
He added that because sea life provides half of our oxygen, much of our food and regulates climate, we are in fact all citizens of the sea.
"While much remains unknown, including at least 750,000 undiscovered species and their roles, we are better acquainted now with our fellow travelers and their vast habitat on this globe."
Author: Tamsin Walker (AFP/AP)
Editor: Nathan Witkop