Monday, October 4, 2010

Census of Marine Life: milestone 10-year study releases results

After 10 years of study, involving 2,700 scientists from 80 nations, the results from the Census of Marine Life was released today. Ocean animals were cataloged, photographed, tagged and tracked or whatever was needed to be able to get a more accurate picture as to the size and scope of marine life worldwide. And the results are both a source of awe and inspiration and a reason for concern.

Scientists have identified around 250,000 marine species but estimate that the total number is probably closer to one million. The census collated data on nearly 17,000 species of fish but scientists estimates there are another 5,000 yet to be discovered. And that's excluding the oceans vast array of microbes, which are estimated alone to total up to a billion.

Over the study's ten-year period, scientists explored shallow reefs and some of the ocean's deepest canyons, from frigid Arctic waters to warm lagoons. Much was learned and much was realized to be, as yet, undiscovered. One of the cornerstone's of the study's research is the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), a central database of observations dating back centuries which forms a baseline of data constructed from 28 million observations and growing by approximately 5 million observations each year.

"The census enlarged the known world. Life astonished us everywhere we looked. In the deep sea we found luxuriant communities despite extreme conditions," said Myriam Sibuet, vice-chair of the study's Steering Committee.

As I had mentioned in a previous post on the Marine Census, the amazing pictures that we will be seeing in the news, magazines, and books in the weeks and months to come will portray an ecosystem that is vibrant with life of all kinds. But we must not think that with this multitude of life that all is well in the seas.

Jesse Asubel, co-founder of the Census, said,
"The Census encountered an ocean growing more crowded with commerce and transparent through technology. Setting out to draw baselines of the diversity, distribution, and abundance of species, the first Census of Marine Life documented a changing ocean, richer in diversity, more connected through distribution and movements, more impacted by humans, and yet less explored than we had known."

The Census of Marine Life is a major milestone in ocean biology. Future census studies will add more data and uncover more surprises.
There's much we know, much more we need to learn, and all of it we need to conserve and protect.

With the release of the Census' final report, three books will soon be available:
Discoveries of the Census of Marine Life (Cambridge University Press)
Life in the World's Oceans: Diversity, Distribution and Abundance (Blackwell Publishing)
Citizens of the Sea: Wondrous Creatures from the Census of Marine Life (National Geographic)

news article on the Census of Marine Life from

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