Murky ocean depths hide abundance of life

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Thousands of animal species thrive in the ocean depths beyond the reach of sunlight, between 200 to 5,000 meters below the surface, an international team of scientists reported Sunday after nearly 10 years of research.

More than 2,000 scientists from 80 countries are taking part in the first global Census of Marine Life project scheduled to be completed in October of next year.

Using deep-towed cameras, sonar and other state-of-the-art technologies, the teams since 2000 have inventoried 17,650 species of marine species, ranging from crabs to shrimp to worms, living below 200 meters, the penetration limit for the sun's rays.

The majority of the deep sea creatures live on animal droppings from the sunlight layer above, while others have adapted to diets of bacteria that break down oil, sulfur and methane, the sunken bones of dead whales and other foods.

Edward Vanden Berghe, who manages the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), the Census' inventory of marine life observations, said that, unsurprisingly, the number of species falls off dramatically at deeper depths.

Nevertheless, he added, OBIS researchers have recorded 5,722 species living at a depth of more than 1,000 meters (yards).

The scientists - 344 from 34 countries are directly involved in the deep-sea inventory project - said their work has shed light on the abundance, diversity and distribution of animals in marine depths that were thought to be barren.

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