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October 7, 2010

Success of the Census for Marine Life


The Census of Marine Life, the results of which were presented this week, was an incredible effort that took 2700 scientists from 80 nations over ten years (and 9000 days at sea!) to complete. This project, which also included the participation of more than 600 institutions, including the World Register of Marine Species, is one of the best examples of scientific collaboration.

Some incredible data emerged from the Census including information that around 99% of the global biomass is marine, that 90% of it is composed of microorganisms, and that approximately one liter of sea water contains a billion microorganisms. However, phytoplancton, the basis of these microorganisms and thus of the food chain, is disappearing, which could lead to unpredictable consequences.

The Census also highlighted the incredible vastness of the Ocean and its resources, the scope of which is still impossible to measure. Indeed, despite the scale of the research undertaken by the Census, the data gathered only covers 5% of the seabed, and estimates the number of known marine species to be 250,000 (but they believe that the total number of species likely stands above 1 million).

During our at-sea expeditions, we use an ROV, which allows us to explore depths reaching 1000m, and provides us with valuable scientific information that opens up the mysteries of the deep unexplored seabeds. Given the fact that only 5% of the total number of seabeds has been explored, these expeditions are important in that they allow us to discover new species and ecosystems, to bring to light the damage caused by trawling, the amount of garbage accumulated on the seafloor, and study coral reefs dying from unknown causes.

The results of the Census underscore the need to develop integrated marine research projects and coordinate the work of scientists. A keen knowledge of the environment is essential in determining the conservation and management measures required for any specific area. Without such a knowledge base, any decision made on a species or an ecosystem would be playing “Russian roulette” with the marine environment, which we depend on for food, and which is critical to the functioning of the global ecosystem.