PORTLAND, Ore. - A massive census of all the fish and other marine life in the world's oceans has reached the halfway point with new evidence of the rich diversity under the sea along with warnings about the alarming decline of many species.
The 10-year international project that began in 2000 already has tracked the migration of tuna from Japan to California and back, along with the movement of endangered British Columbia salmon with implanted computer chips.
"We're sending animals out with the equivalent of cell phones, and they're telling us where they are," said Ron O'Dor, senior scientist for the Census of Marine Life.
"What those animals are sending back is a picture that shows what seems like a blue, uniform ocean to us on the surface is really very complicated," O'Dor said.
The data from the tracking program could help researchers and fishery managers conserve stocks of many species of large fish that have declined by about90 percent over the last 50 years, O'Dor said.
"This gives us an idea about where fish go, the rate at which they migrate, and tells us where these animals live and where they die so we can understand quantitatively what happens to fish stocks so we can manage them better," he said.
Dave Fluharty, a marine policy analyst at the University of Washington, said the data likely will change international treaties on fishing rights as researchers find out how fish are distributed in the ocean.
"It's going to be easier to detect international violations, and I think that's going to change a lot of what we do over the next 10 to 20 years," Fluharty said.
Jane Lubchenco, an Oregon State University marine biologist and president of the International Council for Science, said the census will help raise awareness about the urgent need for international cooperation to preserve marine life.