May 26, 2006
Trying to figure out what tiny creatures live in the ocean is no easy task, but thanks to technology, patience and hard work, scientists have explored a section of the tropical Atlantic between the U.S. east coast and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and found many new species in depths to 5,000 meters (more than 15,000 feet). The April cruise for the Census of Marine Zooplankton (CMarZ), part of the global Census of Marine Life, focused on zooplankton ranging from shrimp-like creatures to swimming worms and jellyfish that are a critical link in the ocean food chain. Many of these species were identified by experts on the cruise from 14 countries; individual species were then provided to a team of investigators who sequenced their DNA at sea to provide a unique “barcode” to identify that species. The next steps: additional identification of the species in the samples and cataloguing them with barcodes to provide a baseline by which future scientists can assess changes in the species and their environment.