First Ocean Census Revealed to the World

A decade of work between more than 2,700 scientists from 80 nations has delivered the first global Census of Marine Life.

The more than 2,700 Census scientists spent over 9,000 days at sea on more than 540 expeditions, not to mention the countless days in laboratories and archives to provide maps, three landmark books, and the first of its kind census of marine life and ecosystems.

“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.”

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.

Released are maps, three books, and a highlights summary that sums up a decade of discovery. Everything can be found at the Census of Marine Life website, with links to the books, maps and the 68 page Highlights report.

By the numbers

People and places
* Participating scientists: 2,700+
* Participating nations and territories: 80+
* Participating institutions: 670
* Research expeditions: 540+
* Days at sea: ~ 9,000
* Deepest depth explored: ~ 10,000 m (6.2 mi.), Marianas Trench southeast of Japan
* Peer-reviewed Census publications: 2,600+
* Census summary books: 4 (with 30+ others on specific topics)
* Special Census issues and collections or volumes of articles, more and more now open freely to all: 40+

* Total global investment in Census: US$ 650 million
* Alfred P. Sloan Foundation contribution: US$ 75 million

* Global datasets combined to create Ocean Biogeographic Information System: 849
* Marine life observations in OBIS: 28 million and growing about 5 million annually
* Records directly obtained by the Census: 6.4 million
* Number of species represented in OBIS: > 120,000

Marine species (excludes microbes)
* Estimated number of species in the oceans: 1 million+
* Species formally described in science literature (all-time): ~ 250,000
* Species listed to date in World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS): 200,000+
* Species described since 2000 worldwide: ~ 16,000
* Species described by Census scientists from specimens collected since 2000: 1,200+
* Estimated new species collected during the Census but not yet described: 5,000+
* Estimated percentage of species not yet described by scientists: Europe: 10%; South Africa 38%; Antarctica: 39 to 58%; Japan 70%; Mediterranean deep-sea 75%; Australia 80%
* Species with pages in the Encyclopedia of Life with vetted content: >90,000
* Species with DNA barcodes for their identification: 35,000

Marine fish species
* Species ever described: 16,764 (Feb. 2010)
* Average new species described per year: 100-150
* Estimated species in the world: 21,800
* Estimated species to be discovered: 5,000

Marine microbes
* Number of Census DNA microbial sequences spanning more than 100 phyla groups: 18 million
* Kinds of microbial bacteria in a typical liter of seawater: ~ 38,000
* Kinds of microbial bacteria in a typical gram of sand: 5,000 – 19,000
* Estimated kinds of marine microbes: Up to 1 billion

Source: Census of Marine Life
Image Source: ronaldhole

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