Between 700,000 and one million species live in the world’s oceans, according to a thorough new analysis, which also estimated that between one-third and two-thirds of those species have yet to be named and described.
The new numbers are far smaller than previous estimates, which had put the tally of marine species as high as 10 million or more. By coming up with a more accurate picture of what we know and what we don’t yet know about marine life, the study should help scientists better focus conservation efforts where they’re needed most.
“You can only love something if you know it,” says Ward Appeltans, a marine biologist at the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO in Oostende, Belgium. “We will not save the world with this result, but we may start understanding it better.”
The new findings also open up the possibility that we may eventually be able to identify just about every creature living in the sea.
“It may not be mission impossible to describe all the marine species in the ocean,” Appeltans says. “We are describing 2000 new marine species every year. If we can keep that momentum, we can start knowing exactly what’s living on our planet.”