Wednesday, November 12, 2008

2010 Census of Marine Life

Juvenile representatives of the Antarctic and deep-sea genera of octopuses. Clockwise from top left , (1) Pareledone charcoti, a shallow-water species from the Antarctica Peninsula, (2) Thaumeledone gunteri, a deep-water species endemic to South Georgia, (3) Adelieledone polymoprha, a species endemic to the western Antarctic, (4) Megaleledone setebos, a shallow-water circum-Antarctic species endemic to the Southern Ocean. Photo credit: I. Everson (T. gunteri), M. Rauschert (M. setebos), L. Allcock (P. charcoti. A, polymorpha).
In the year 2000, researchers in over 80 countries collaborated to begin the most important marine census of our time. Appropriately named the "Census of Marine Life" or COML, this census was designed to gather in-depth information about all of the species found in our oceans worldwide. By 2010, the Census organizers plan to have all of the information about newly-discovered and previously known species in an on-line encyclopedia and web page.

This study is unprecedented and will result in the first comprehensive list of all forms of life in the sea. So far, researchers have added over 5600 species to the list, and they believe that there are many more species yet to be discovered.

A male sea spider carries its eggs on specially adapted appendages under its body; it is one of many possible new species from the Antarctic. Census researchers are trying to understand the evolutionary history of these curious animals. Photo: C├ędric d’Udekem, Royal Belgium Institute for Natural Sciences 2007.
When I found out about this census, I could not believe that a study of its kind had not yet been attempted. Many will agree that this census is timely and COML has even classified this research as urgent:
"Crises in the sea are reported regularly. One recent study predicted the end of commercial fishery globally by 2050, if current trends persist. Better information is needed to fashion the management that will sustain fisheries, conserve diversity, reverse losses of habitat, reduce impacts of pollution, and respond to global climate change. Hence, there are biological, economic, philosophical and political reasons to push for greater exploration and understanding of the ocean and its inhabitants."

The jeweled squid, Histioteuthis bonelli, swims above the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at depths from 500 m to 2,000 m. Photo: David Shale 2007.

The impact of this census will even reach us here on the North Island and Central Coast. The more we know about local marine life in our area, the better equipped we will be to make informed decisions about how to best manage our ocean resources.

For more information about the Census of Marine Life (and for many more interesting pictures!), visit

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