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Sea Life
Getting to Know You

With an estimated million different species swimming the seas, it’s easy to understand why humans are familiar with only a small fraction of them. “We probably know less than 10 percent of what actually lives in the ocean,” notes Ronald O’Dor, a scientist coordinating a census of marine life. For the past 170 years scientists have documented a steady increase in the number of known marine mammals, plants, fish, plankton, and bacteria. Marine biologists, ecologists, and microbiologists from more than 80 nations began the census eight years ago to add to the 122,500 species listed in the World Register of Marine Species. Because countless studies catalogue these animals, sometimes giving the same species more than one name, the registry is also eliminating repetitions in order to have an accurate record by 2010, when the taxonomists finish the project and researchers the census. By the time both are completed, the registry is expected to have slightly less than double the current number of species, with many more awaiting confirmation. “I think [the census has] been successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams,” says O’Dor. “We probably can’t save everything, but we need a lot more information to be able to make decisions about what can go and what has to stay.” Such information will also inform management decisions in the race to save species before the seas are depleted.—Susan Cosier

Source: National Park Service

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