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First Antarctic Marine Census Launched

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — U.S., New Zealand and Italian marine scientists began a two-month voyage to Antarctica's northern coast Tuesday as part of the first-ever census of Antarctic marine biodiversity, Prime Minister Helen Clark said.

The census of Antarctic marine life is a multinational research project "involving 23 countries and 11 coordinated voyages to survey marine ecosystems and habitats in waters surrounding Antarctica," she said.

The 26 scientists on the research ship will collect samples of sea life and capture images of the sea floor down to depths of 13,000 feet in previously unexplored areas, Clark said in a statement.

The data collected by surveys of areas not previously explored will "assist decision-making on environmental issues such as climate change and its effect on Southern Ocean ecosystems," she said.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the voyage would provide essential information about the biodiversity and functioning of the Ross Sea ecosystem off the north Antarctic coast that would help safeguard its long-term ecological viability.

New assessments of ocean acidification caused by climate change and identification of new species off Antarctica's coastline are expected from the voyage, Clark said.

The work is part of International Polar Year, a global science program designed to advance knowledge of the land and sea environments of the Arctic and Antarctic. The first IPY was held in 1882.

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