An international project to explore the Arctic Ocean is expected to discover thousands of new species of marine animals that have been cut off from the rest of the world.

Scientists said yesterday that the exploration of the Arctic Ocean – perhaps the least understood body of salt water on earth – is urgent because of its unique marine life.

A particular focus of the census will be the Canada Basin, a huge and largely ice-covered underwater hole 3,800 metres (12,500ft) deep where life in its icy depths has remained practically isolated for millennia.

The Arctic exploration project is part of the $1bn (£660m) Census of Marine Life, an unprecedented collaboration of more than 300 marine scientists from 53 countries with the aim of addressing our ignorance of what lives in the sea.

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