Washington, June 26 : Soon, the world will get to know the total number of creatures that reside in the sea, thanks to the launch of the World Register of Marine Species, which has already listed 122,500 known species.
This project was inaugurated with first 122,500 validated names; with over 56,000 aliases for ocean species identified.
It also contains some 5,600 images, hyperlinks to taxonomic literature and other information.
Marking the World Register's official inauguration, some 55 researchers from 17 countries met in Belgium to plan its completion by 2010.
Leading WoRMS (World Register of Marine Species) experts independently estimate that about 230,000 marine species are known to science. They also believe there are three times as many unknown (unnamed) marine species as known, for a grand total on Earth that could surpass 1 million.
"Convincing warnings about declining fish and other marine species must rest on a valid census," said Dr. Mark Costello of the University of Auckland, co-founder of WoRMS and a senior Census of Marine Life official.
According to Costello, this project will improve information vital to researchers investigating fisheries, invasive species, threatened species and marine ecosystem functioning, as well as to educators.
"It will eliminate the misinterpretation of names, confusion over Latin spellings, redundancies and a host of other problems that sow confusion and slow scientific progress," he added.
Census of Marine Life and other explorers are finding unknown species at a rate much faster than the capacity to describe them due to a shortage of experts.
Philippe Bouchet, a Census scientist involved in WoRMS, has calculated that 3,800 taxonomists enter at least 1,400 new marine species into the literature every year.
At this rate, the process of discovering, verifying, describing and naming all remaining unknown marine species would take over five centuries.
The global scale cooperation underway by the Census and the World Register is a prerequisite for the more time and cost-efficient discovery and recording of ocean-dwelling species.
So too are new technologies for sampling, image capture, data management, genetic analyses (e.g. DNA barcodes), new training programs for taxonomists, and online initiatives such as ZooBank, which can assign "official" permanent registration identifications to new animal species.
The Census is the largest-ever global marine biology research project, uniting researchers from more than 80 nations with the goal of assessing and explaining the diversity, distribution and abundance of ocean life - past, present and future.