A new oceans discovery: 1 million species (and a lot of plastic).

Photo by NOAA, Ocean Explorer (2011) | flickr.com

Last week, the results from a 2.5-year underwater expedition were revealed. The French vessel, Tara, has surfaced over one million newfound aquatic species – certainly a great feat for science and discovery! However, it’s important to understand how this discovery, although large in number, doesn’t end our need to discover our oceans.

Biodiversity is a great thing, ensuring that our ecosystems have the ability to function and prosper, even at times of extreme events and disease. But in terms of discovering new species, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. Our best estimates describe that there is probably 5 to 30 million species in the world (excluding bacteria) – and currently, we’ve only got about 2 million described and formally recognized. This one million addition (assuming all of those one million they described are actually different species) will certainly assist us, and can lead to more relevant research.

The journey simply can’t stop there. It’s great to understand that there’s a bounty of marine life in an unexplored area. There’s more to be done, though. Describing the number of species in the oceans, their role in the ecosystem, and how many of each species there are will all be necessary to determine to make a more accurate management decision.

It’s also important to not take that one million number for face value, as there are quite a few caveats to their valuation. Firstly, assuming that the count is 100% accurate would be inaccurate (science is always embedded with uncertainty). Digging further than that, species come and go so fast that it’s hard to keep track. A species that was recorded a week ago simply may not exist presently. Or, a species that didn’t exist last week might exist now! It’s a crazy world, one of which is hard to track (but equally exciting to discover!).


The Tara’s most frightening discovery (despite how frightening this fish looks!) is the amount of plastic particles found off the coast of Antarctica.  Plastics have leaked their way into our oceans as a result of human activity, and are having great effects on our marine life.

A Science Museum spokesman said: “These fragments can cause serious damage to the ecosystem by releasing toxins into the food chain and being eaten by fish, sea mammals and sea birds that think that it is jellyfish.”

This sheds light on the importance of reducing plastic waste – including packaging and disposable materials. Doing your part by not using plastic water bottles (and other disposable plastics) and recycling materials properly can go a long way to keeping our oceans healthy.