After a decade of joint work and scientific adventure, marine explorers from more than 80 countries delivered a historic first global Census of Marine Life.
In one of the largest scientific collaborations ever conducted, more than 2,700 Census scientists spent over 9,000 days at sea on more than 540 expeditions, plus countless days in labs and archives.
Released Oct. 4 are maps, three landmark books, and a highlights summary that crown a decade of discovery.
The now-completed documentation in books and journals, plus the accumulating databases and established websites, videos, and photo galleries report and conclude the first Census. Over the decade more than 2,600 academic papers were published -- one, on average, every 1.5 days.
Presented is an unprecedented picture of the diversity, distribution, and abundance of all kinds of marine life in Planet Ocean -- from microbes to whales, from the icy poles to the warm tropics, from tidal near shores to the deepest dark depths.
Oceanic diversity is demonstrated by nearly 30 million observations of 120,000 species organized in the global marine life database of the Census, the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). The migrations tracked across seas and up and down in the water column, plus the revealed ubiquities of many species, demonstrate connections among oceans. Comparisons of the present ocean with the bountiful ocean life portrayed in old archives document changes. The Census established declines -- and some recoveries -- of marine abundance.
The OBIS directory of names and addresses of known ocean species establishes a reference against which humanity can monitor 21st century change. It also delineates the vast areas of ocean that have never been explored.
"We prevailed over early doubts that a Census was possible, as well as daunting extremes of nature," says Australian Ian Poiner, chair of the Census Steering Committee. "The Age of Discovery continues."
"This cooperative international 21st century voyage has systematically defined for the first time both the known and the vast unknown, unexplored ocean."
According to Dr. Poiner, the beauty, wonder, and importance of marine life are hard to overstate.
"All surface life depends on life inside and beneath the oceans. Sea life provides half of our oxygen and a lot of our food and regulates climate. We are all citizens of the sea. And while much remains unknown, including at least 750,000 undiscovered species and their roles, we are better acquainted now with our fellow travelers and their vast habitat on this globe."
The highlights summary draws from the three books now officially launched:
Also released are:
The many partners of the Census included government agencies concerned with science, environment, and fisheries, navies, private philanthropic foundations, corporations, research institutions, universities, natural history museums, aquariums, and intergovernmental and international nongovernmental organizations and programs. Many of the partners and sponsors are listed at www.comlsecretariat.org/about/partners-and-sponsors.
More than 300 leaders of the Census community meet 4-7 October in London at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Royal Society, and Natural History Museum to share their decade of results and consider their implications.
A sequel to the Census will be explored during the London meetings and at the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity next September in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Legacies of the first Census
Legacies of the first Census -- knowledge, technology, and habits of global co-operation -- will transmute its effort and expense into investment. These include:
Jesse Ausubel of the USA, Census Co-founder and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Program Director: "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."
Fred Grassle of the USA, Census Co-Founder: "The Census has helped pour the foundation for the 'e-Biosphere,' a massive, comprehensive virtual observatory of world biodiversity now under construction. OBIS and related rich initiatives like the Encyclopedia of Life, Barcode of Life initiative, and Google Earth pool environmental observations, specimen data, and experimental results into a global commons to enhance dramatically our ability to understand Earth's life."
Myriam Sibuet of France, Vice-Chair of the Scientific Steering Committee: "The Census enlarged the known world. Life astonished us everywhere we looked. In the deep sea we found luxuriant communities despite extreme conditions. The discoveries of new species and habitats both advanced science and inspired artists with their extraordinary beauty. Some newly discovered marine species have even entered popular culture, like the yeti crab painted on skateboards."
Victor Gallardo of Chile, Vice-Chair of the Scientific Steering Committee: "A human Census is used for many practical purposes, like government allocations of seats in a legislature, or funds for education and health care. Likewise this ocean life inventory constitutes a true Census that can guide conservation."
Patricia Miloslavich of Venezuela, Co-senior Scientist: "Before the Census, we lacked even a simple list of known marine species. Information was scattered all over the world with limited access. If we liken Earth to a firm with humankind as CEO, we must surely know the key employees and their functions."
Ron O'Dor of Canada, Co-senior Scientist: "The Census was a tour de force of technology. Many Census technologies can soon become part of a regular ocean observing system that provides timely reporting on the health of life in the oceans."
Paul Snelgrove of Canada, who led the assembly and report of Census results: "The Census united scientists from more than 80 nations with different talents, equipment, and interests. It matched the immensity and complexity of ocean life with a human enterprise able to grasp it. The understanding and well-being of marine life may well depend on continued unity of international science. "
Boris Worm of Canada, leader of the Census studies of the future: "Not only tuna and sea stars but also humans may be considered marine animals. The rapidly changing ocean that we are now uncovering helps us to understand ourselves. It compels us both to continue with journeys of discovery and to make wiser choices in the future."
Paul Joskow of the USA, President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation: "The achievements of the Census have inspired the Sloan Foundation to create a new set of fellowships to stimulate fundamental research by early-career ocean scientists of outstanding promise."
Materials provided by Census of Marine Life. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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