Press Releases 2006

20,000+ Kinds of Bacteria Found in 1 Liter of Seawater

In a paper published in the USA by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal (July 31 online early edition), ICOMM scientists reveal marine microbial diversity may be some 10 to 100 times more than expected, and the vast majority are previously unknown, low-abundance organisms theorized to play an important role in the marine environment as part of a "rare biosphere." "These observations blow away all previous estimates of bacterial diversity in the ocean," says lead author Mitchell L. Sogin, director of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL)'s Josephine Bay Paul Center for Comparative and Molecular Biology and Evolution, located in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

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Global Ocean Tracking Network Announced

Academics, scientists and technical experts aim to throw open a large, vivid new global window on marine life by expanding worldwide the work of two Census projects, TOPP and POST, that follow the movements of important species using electronic tags.
Convening at Dalhousie University, Halifax, the experts announced a global collaboration, the Ocean Tracking Network, whose goal is to tag a vast range of ocean animals large and small with low-cost devices that vary in size from an almond to a AA battery and to follow them via an extensive international array of acoustic receivers on the sea floor.

Photo courtesy POST 2006. Acoustic tags are getting smaller, lasting longer. The top tags were used during the 1990s and lasted a few months. The bottom tags currently used by POST are much smaller and last 4-20 months.

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Results of Two Census Projects in Science

Census researchers affiliated with FMAP and HMAP had papers published in the same issue of Science, June 23, 2006. FMAP researchers Camilo Mora and Ransom Myers, working with their OBIS colleague Mark Costello, released the results of the first global assessment of the extent, effectiveness and gaps in coverage of coral reefs by Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). They found that less than 2% of coral reefs worldwide are within MPAs that have regulations on extraction, poaching and other major threats to these fragile ecosystems. HMAP researcher Heike K. Lotze was lead author on a study that reported that the decline of the world's estuaries and coastal seas has accelerated in the last 150-300 years. Lotze and her colleagues found that in areas where conservation efforts have been implemented in the 20th century, signs of recovery are apparent.

For more information on FMAP's paper, visit

For more information on HMAP's paper, visit

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Zooplankton DNA-Sequenced on Rolling Sea

A team of 28 Census of Marine Life experts from 14 nations trawled rarely explored tropical ocean depths between the southeast US coast and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge to inventory and photograph the variety and abundance of zooplankton. Scientists found an amazing variety at depths of 1 to 5 km (0.6 to 3 miles). Among thousands captured, 220 of them were DNA sequenced at sea, revealing a number of new species. The team, who have spent decades learning to distinguish species within a particular group, sorted through samples in a kind of assembly line "that would have made Henry Ford proud," according to University of Connecticut post-doctoral investigator Rob Jennings, leader of the on-board "Team DNA."


MAR-ECO Researchers Find Global Oceans 70% Shark Free

An international team of researchers, led by the University of Aberdeen, revealed that sharks have failed to colonise at depths greater than 3,000 metres, meaning that the deepest oceans of the world appear to be shark free. Scientists do not know why sharks are absent from the deep but suggest one possible reason could be due to lack of food. Their findings published in the Proceedings of The Royal Society, Biological Series were on a wide range of data, including information gathered during a major month long MAR-ECO expedition along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in 2004.

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Scientists have a new way to count fish

Gulf of Maine Area program (GoMA) researchers have found a new way of looking beneath the ocean surface that could help definitively determine whether fish populations are shrinking. A remote sensor system developed by Associate Professor Nicholas Makris of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and colleagues makes it possible to track enormous fish populations or shoals over a 10,000-square-kilometer area - a vast improvement over conventional technology. Makris compared the dramatic improvement to the difference between seeing everything on a television screen and seeing only one pixel. The new sensor system was reported in Science and Nature.

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Gulf of Maine Marine Life Diversity Greater than Expected

Scientists of the Census Gulf of Maine Program (GoMA) released the first count of known marine species in the Gulf of Maine region. The total number of species is 3,317-50% higher than previous estimates- and includes 652 kinds of fish, 184 species of birds, 32 species of mammals, and 733 species of microscopic plants.

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