Extraordinary Abundance of Life in Oceans Past

trophy fish 2007By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 26 (IPS) – Imagine large pods of mighty blue whales and orcas darkening the waters off Cornwall, England, while closer to shore blue sharks and thresher sharks chase herds of harbour porpoise and dolphins.

Pure fantasy? No, in fact that extraordinary abundance of marine life off the English coast was the norm for oceans around the world not so long ago, researchers have now documented.

And then humans began to mine the seas of anything worth eating.

“The impact of fishing over the centuries is far larger than anyone thought,” said Poul Holm, a professor at Trinity College in Dublin and global chair of the History of Marine Animals Population (HMAP) project which part of the 10-year Census of Marine Life.

While many valuable species have been fished out in recent years, that has been happening for hundreds of years around the world based on nine years of research by hundreds of experts.

“In looking back 500 to 2,000 years ago, you get a real sense of the impacts of fishing and the cascading effects on marine ecosystems, some of which may be beyond recovery,” Holm told IPS. Continue reading

Scientists Build a Macroscope of Life on Earth

clown fish anomenes iucnBy Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jun 2 (IPS) – Imagine looking at a Google Maps-like satellite image of the Amazon forest and with a mouse click find out what lives in that bit of forest – what tree and plant species are there, what animals, birds and insects.

You could even look at the DNA of the microbes that live on those insects in this amazing, futuristic online “macroscope of life” on planet Earth.

The information about these Amazonian species, their habitats and even their DNA already exists in most cases. But it is scattered like dry leaves all over the world in dusty museum basements, science labs, libraries and hundreds of electronic databases.

This week, scientists are launching a 10-year global effort to gather and compile the world’s vast storehouse of knowledge about biodiversity into a single online, interactive information system for life on Earth that will take its place alongside the world meteorology data network that pools information to predict the weather. Continue reading