The Census of Marine Life


The Census of Marine Life - An Inventory of How Much - and How Little - We Know

The Census of Marine Life engaged over 2,000 scientists from 80 countries in an investigation of every ocean life form — from microbes to large predators. During the 10-year project more than 38,000 marine species were inventoried from ocean habitats ranging from coastal waters to the deep sea. The intent of the project? To create a comprehensive information system, a penultimate baseline for study of ocean life, past, present and future.

The CoML site provides access to scientific methodology, to innovative technology, to the full geographical range of study, and to the results to date. Much work remains to be done; while some 230,000 ocean life forms are presently known, scientists estimate the actual total may exceed two million — a complex demonstration of natural diversity.

Census of Marine Life Field Projects

ArcOD - Arctic Ocean Biodiversity

The Arctic Ocean the most extreme ocean in regard to the seasonality of light and its year-round existing ice cover. Current knowledge indicates that the Arctic seas hold a multitude of unique life forms highly adapted in their life history, ecology and physiology to the extreme and seasonal conditions of their environment. The Arctic Ocean is also the area where the impact of climate change might be strongest expressed. The already on-going changes make the effort to identify the diversity of life in the major three realms (sea ice, water column and sea floor) an urgent issue.

CAML - Census of Antarctic Marine Life (English, French, Spanish, Portugese)

CAML is a five-year International Program which will be undertaken as a major activity during the International Polar Year (IPY) of 2007/08. It will draw together all known data on Antarctic marine biodiversity and ocean change. Changes in the Antarctic Ocean environment over the past 12 years suggest that it may be the most vulnerable part of the global marine ecosystem. The world’s ocean circulation could be disrupted resulting in dramatic impacts of a biological and economic nature.

CeDAMar - Census of the Diversity of Abyssal Marine Life (English, German)

This 10-year program was brought to life in 2000. Even though two-thirds of the earth are covered by oceans, much less is known about the species inhabiting them than those living on dry land. The general objective of CeDAMar is "the documentation of actual species diversity of abyssal plains as a basis for global change research and for a better understanding of historical causes and actual ecological factors regulating biodiversity".

CenSeam – Global Census of Marine Life on Seamounts

Seamounts (undersea mountains) are prominent features of the world`s underwater topography. Globally, there are estimated to be over 100,000 seamounts. These features can be hotspots of biodiversity and are extremely valuable; not only ecologically but also economically as they are the target of offshore commercial fishing, and are of potential interest for seabed mining. CenSeam brings scientists together from all continents of the world to determine the role of seamounts in the biogeography, biodiversity, productivity, and evolution of marine organisms, and to evaluate the effects of human exploitation on seamounts.

ChEss – Biogeography of Deep-Water Chemosynthetic Ecosystems (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese)

ChEss is a global study of the distribution, abundance and diversity of species in deep-water hydrothermal vents, cold seeps and other chemosynthetic ecosystems for the Census of Marine Life initiative. Directed from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, in the United Kingdom, ChEss addresses the main questions of CoML on diversity, abundance and distribution of marine species, focusing on deep-water reducing environments such as hydrothermal vents, cold seeps, whale falls, sunken wood and areas of low oxygen that intersect with continental margins and seamounts.

CMarZ – Census of Marine Zooplakton

CMarZ is working toward a taxonomically comprehensive assessment of biodiversity of animal plankton throughout the world ocean. The project goal is to produce accurate and complete information on zooplankton species diversity, biomass, biogeographical distribution, genetic diversity, and community structure by 2010. The taxonomic focus is the animals that drift with ocean currents throughout their lives. The census encompasses unique marine environments and those likely to be inhabited by endemic and undescribed zooplankton species.

COMARGE – Continental Margins Ecosystems (English, French)

COMARGE is dedicated to the description and understanding of biodiversity patterns on continental margins. Continental margins refer here to the deep-sea realm comprised between about 200 meters and 4000 meters depth. Once envisioned as monotonous and devoid of life , continental margins actually harbor an amazing diversity of life in a variety of habitats including deep-sea corals, cold seeps, canyons. The overall aim of the project is to describe biodiversity patterns on continental margins at different spatial scales and identify the contributions of environmental heterogeneities to these patterns.

CReefs – Census of Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are the most diverse and biologically complex marine ecosystems in the world. They provide crucial economic and environmental resources to millions of people including: shoreline protection, aesthetic beauty and recreational opportunities, commercial and subsistence food sources, pharmaceuticals and medicines, and numerous jobs and other sources of revenue. CReefs is an international cooperative effort to increase tropical taxonomic expertise, conduct a taxonomically diversified global census of coral reef ecosystems, and improve access to and unify coral reef ecosystem information scattered throughout the globe.

GoMA- Gulf of Maine Area Program

The Gulf of Maine Census of Marine Life Program is one of seven initial field projects of the Census of Marine Life (CoML), and was selected as the ecosystem pilot study for CoML. The goal of this program is to gain enough knowledge to enable ecosystem-based management in a large marine environment. The program will advance knowledge of biodiversity patterns and ecological processes over a range of habitats and species, from microscopic plankton to whales. This growing knowledge base will be synthesized and used as a foundation for ecosystem approaches to management in the Gulf of Maine.

ICoMM – International Census of Marine Microbes

Microbes were the only form of life for the first 2-3 billion years of planetary and biological evolution. They originated in the oceans and have assembled there into complex consortia with enormous metabolic capability. Contemporary communities of diverse Bacteria, Archaea, and Protista account for more than 98 percent of oceanic biomass. These microscopic factories - aerobic and anaerobic - are the essential catalysts for all of the chemical reactions within the biogeochemical cycles. The role of the International Census of Marine Microbes (ICoMM) is to promote an agenda and an environment that will accelerate discovery, understanding, and awareness of the global significance of marine microbes.

MAR-ECO – Mid Atlantic Ridge Ecosystem Project (English, French, German, Greek, Icelandic, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish)

We inhabit the blue planet, but our knowledge of life underneath the blue surfaces of the ocean remains surprisingly limited. In reality, investigations of marine life have just begun, and it is only now, when we can utilize custom-built research ships and the finest modern technology, that we can learn how ecosystems in the oceans are structured and function. The CoML seriously addresses this situation and challenges marine biologists to utilize the most advanced technology to achieve true new information in areas of the ocean that were previously poorly studied. The project MAR-ECO, rises to the challenge and investigates the diverse animal life along the vast underwater mountain chains of the open ocean.

NaGISA – Natural Geography in Shore Areas

NaGISA is a collaborative effort aimed at inventorying and monitoring costal biodiversity. The Japanese word nagisa, refers to the narrow coastal zone where the land meets the sea; the area people know best and impact most. NaGISA plans to complete a habitat specific, qualitative survey of the world’s ocean shores. By employing a simple, cost efficient, low-tech sampling protocol that can be adopted by many research groups and countries with the intent of promoting local community involvement. The two target habitats are rocky bottom algal and soft bottom sea-grass communities, chosen for their global distribution, community complexity and the poor state of current knowledge.

POST – Pacific Ocean Tracking Program

The Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking Project (POST) was created to monitor the movement of marine animals through an array of listening stations set along the west coast of North America. Little is known about key aspects of the biology of threatened and commercially valued species upon which fisheries assessments are critically dependent. POST results will give much needed information about their behavior and provide unprecedented insight into the mysteries of migration.

The POST project uses newly developed acoustic technology to track the movement of individual animals. Tags implanted in the animals’ abdomens send out unique signals, which are picked up by receivers placed on the ocean floor. Most species and many life history stages can be studied using POST.

TOPP – Tagging of Pacific Predators

The Tagging of Pacific Pelagic (TOPP) research project explores the Pacific, using a carefully selected group of animals from its ecosystems to gather data about their world. As a pilot program of the Census of Marine Life (COML), an international endeavor to determine what lives, has lived and will live in the world’s ocean, TOPP scientists will tag individuals from 21 species of marine predators in the Eastern Pacific to obtain an “organism’s eye” view of their world.

FMAP – Future of Marine Animal Populations

The Future of Marine Animal Populations is a network of scientists that are using statistical models to make predictions about animal life in the oceans of the future. We focus on changes driven by the fishing industry and climate change-- both of these are altering the nature of marine ecosystems.

HMAP – History of Marine Animal Populations

The History of Marine Animal Populations (HMAP), the historical component of the Census of Marine Life (CoML), aims to improve the understanding of ecosystem dynamics, specifically with regard to long-term changes in stock abundance, the ecological impact of large-scale harvesting by man, and the role of marine resources in the historical development of human society. HMAP analyzes marine population data before and after human impacts on the ocean became significant. HMAP aims to enhance knowledge and understanding of how the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine life in the worlds oceans changes over the long term.

OBIS – Ocean Biogeographic Information System

OBIS, the information component of CoML is a web-based provider of global geo-referenced information on marine species. We contain expert species level and habitat level databases and provide a variety of spatial query tools for visualizing relationships among species and their environment. OBIS strives to assess and integrate biological, physical, and chemical oceanographic data from multiple sources. Users of OBIS, including researchers, students, and environmental managers, will gain a dynamic view of the multi-dimensional oceanic world.

Affiliated Projects

The Census of Marine Life realizes that it cannot cover the entire ocean - 70% of the globe - and has welcomed collaboration with the following affiliated projects to help it meet its 2010 goal of constructing a representative picture of global marine biodiversity.

MarBol - Marine Barcode of Life

MarBOL is an international initiative to enhance our capacity to identify marine life by utilizing DNA Barcoding a new technique for that uses a short DNA sequence from a standardized and agreed-upon position in the genome as a molecular diagnostic for species-level identification.

Scientific Committe on Ocean Research Technology Panel

WoRMS - World Register of Marine Species

The aim of a World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) is to provide an authoritative and comprehensive list of names of marine organisms, including information on synonymy. While highest priority goes to valid names, other names in use are included so that this register can serve as a guide to interpret taxonomic literature.

Great Barrier Reef Seabed Biodiversity Project

While some parts of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, such as coral reefs, are relatively well understood, less is known about the numbers and types of organisms that live in the deeper parts of the world's largest marine protected area.

From 2003 until 2006, the Great Barrier Reef Seabed Biodiversity Project will map sea floor habitats and their associated marine life across the length and breadth of the Marine Park. Scientists will collect samples at approximately 1,500 sites in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The information they collect will help protect and conserve this precious marine region.