New marine species discovered


Marine researchers have discovered 5,000 previously unknown species of fish, worms, anemones and other creatures living in our oceans as a result of the Census of Marine Life.

This international programme which has involved the work of 2,000 scientists in 80 countries reaches its conclusion this October when the Census releases the final details of its findings.

Later today people attending the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in San Diego will have an opportunity to hear about the Census and its discoveries at a session called: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, New Fish: Society needs marine biodiversity research.

The Census was a $650m effort to seek out new life in marine environments, one of the session participants, Shirley Pomponi of the Florida Atlantic University said yesterday. Although it turned up thousands of new species, “95 per cent of the ocean remains unexplored”, she said.

She is involved in he search for novel chemicals from the marine environment, substances that could provide new drugs. “Mother Nature still makes the best chemicals,” she said. These drugs can be got “from unlikely sources”, she said.

For example the pain killer Prialt (ziconotide) was originally found in a marine cone snail and the sea squirt is the unlikely source for a new anticancer drug, she said.

About 15,000 chemicals have been isolated over the past 30 years from marine sources, she said. Of these about 1,000 are under active study and about 100 are currently in either pre clinical or early clinical trials.

Dr Jason Hall-Spencer of the University of Plymouth is another speaker and will tell those attending about the rich marine life living on sea mounts, underwater mountains where ocean currents deliver food that supports a thriving population of sometimes unique animals.

The oceans conceal about 50,000 sea mounts more than a kilometre high, he said yesterday in advance of the session. “They create an oasis of life in the open ocean,” he said, yet just one per cent of these sea mounts have been studied in the search for new species.

He also talked about the significant damage being done to cold water corals growing in deep waters as far north as the Arctic. Bottom trawling is causing the damage and harming these important habitats.