South Asia

  • Marine biodiversity survey reveals data gaps

    Usha Raman

    17/02/11

[HYDERABAD] A marine biodiversity survey covering the 47 countries of the Indian Ocean has highlighted inequalities and inadequacies in data coverage, and a shortage of scientists equipped to conduct such surveys.

Scientists at the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa; the Zoological Survey of India, Chennai; and the Centre for Advanced Study in Marine Biology, Tamil Nadu, pooled available records to create an inventory of nearly 35,000 coastal and marine species in the region, published in the January issue of PLoS One.

"The study tells us how little we know and how much needs to be discovered," lead author and NIO scientist, Mohideen Wafar, told SciDev.Net. The report is part of the larger, ongoing Census of Marine Life' project, involving more than 2,700 scientists in 80 countries, to assess the diversity, distribution and abundance of life in the world's ocean habitats.

The report highlighted several issues of concern such as scarcity of data on species not considered economically important; inadequate spatial data, even in countries like India that are reasonably well-surveyed; and an acute lack of information on animal species.

It said there was a pressing need to improve the capacity of scientists to survey and classify the region's biodiversity, an uphill task given that few young scientists were attracted to the task of classification.

One way out  is to modernise the discipline by introducing sophisticated techniques such as computer-aided classification, pattern recognition, image analysis and DNA fingerprinting. Another is to add value to such studies by integrating them with work on extraction of bio-products, or biosafety, the authors suggested.

"The Indian Ocean countries also have widely differing policy frameworks and social systems that govern the coastal habitats, with generally weak environmental regulations," the report said. 

Some environment scientists, however, disagreed with the report's argument that such surveys provided the basis for effective policymaking and implementation of biodiversity laws in developing countries.

Kartik Shanker of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, said the report only provides a broad reference point for marine biologists. "There is so much variability across studies and sources that we need much more than this to even serve as a baseline."

Link to full article in PLoS ONE