250,000 marine species catalogued in new database

A new database cataloguing sea life, including more than 6,000 previously undiscovered creatures, is now available online

Approximately 250,000 marine species have been formally described in the Ocean Biogeographic Information System, following the completion of a ten-year study known as the Census of Marine Life.

The largest ever study of life in the planet’s oceans, the results of the census have created the clearest picture yet of what lives in our seas, showing that the world’s oceans are far more diverse and interconnected than previously recognised.

Founders of the new online resource hope it will help protect the oceans and endangered sea species. The website gives information on the migratory routes and feeding areas of vulnerable species to help decision-makers protect the world’s marine life. It also hosts a comprehensive list of endangered sea species, with the hope that international efforts can be targeted at those most threatened.

The Census involved 2,700 scientists from around the world, who made over 30 million observations, to help create a greater knowledge of vital ecosystems and enable governments and other organisations to better understand the impact of humans on the oceans.

With 70% of the world’s surface area covered by water, the project involved 540 expeditions at a cost of $650 million and studied some of the most extreme conditions on the planet, as well as regions that had never previously been explored.

Scientists involved estimated that, on top of the 250,000 valid marine species that have been formally described in scientific literature, excluding microbes, a further 750,000 species remain to be discovered and described. More than a billion types of microbes may also live in the oceans.