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Marine Biodiversity

Posted on Thursday, April 15, 2021

By Joanne Gibson, Ph.D.

Topic: Environment and social responsibility

50-80% of all life on Earth is found below the ocean’s surface - including the intricate Christmas Tree Worm, Spirobranchus giganteus, shown in the image above living in a Caribbean coral reef.

But really, it is impossible to know the exact proportion because of the sheer expanse of the ocean and the limited accessibility we have to fully explore it. What we do know is that over 230,000 marine species have been named and classified, but it is predicted that there are at least 2 million more still to be cataloged.

Put another way, it is thought that over 90% of marine species are not yet classified.

One thing that is clear is that human activity is causing a rapid decline in ocean biodiversity. The destruction of entire ecosystems has resulted from overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and climate change, causing a current extinction rate 22 times the historical baseline; more than 30% of marine species are in a rate of population decline that threatens their existence. When we lose these amazing marine species - some known to us, some not - we also lose the wealth of information contained in their genomes.

Conserving biodiversity has always been a priority for NEB. We put this into practice by implementing business measures that minimize our impact on the environment. We consciously support grassroots organizations that work to protect threatened landscapes and seascapes and the biodiversity found there - from protecting against illegal turtle egg trade to the restoration and conservation of tropical forests.

The Ocean Genome Legacy (OGL) was founded in 2000 by NEB’s founder, Dr. Donald Comb. It is a non-profit environmental research organization that collects, describes and preserves the tissues and DNA of marine organisms from around the world and makes these samples widely available for scientific research. The collection is housed at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center, located in Nahant, MA. The genomic information gathered supports marine conservation and responsible fisheries efforts, and it is also used to help find new drug candidates such as anti-cancer agents or anti-microbials that can help fight infectious disease.

Cataloging genomic information complements other proactive measures to conserve marine biodiversity, such as setting up marine protected areas and international agreements to limit greenhouse gases to curb climate change. By taking these collective measures, we can discover and protect more and more species that call the ocean home.

Visit our Social Responsibility and Sustainability page, or view the NEBTV Episode below, to learn about NEB’s efforts to conserve biodiversity and minimize our impact on the environment.



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