The Census of Marine Life was a 10-year international effort that assessed the diversity (how many different kinds), distribution (where they live), and abundance (how many) of marine life. This first Census was completed in 2010, and in 2011 its Scientific Steering Committee received the prestigious COSMOS prize in recognition of its integrated approach to gathering information. Many projects started by the Census continue today.
During the decade of the Census of Marine Life, more than 6,000 potential new ocean species were discovered by 2,700 participating scientists from more than 80 countries. Census scientists searched the global ocean to learn more about species as large as the blue whale and as small as a zooplankter or microbe. They sampled from the world's coldest regions -- from the Arctic and Antarctic to the warm Tropics, from deep sea hydrothermal vents to coastal ecosystems. They dug up studies from long ago to to gain a better baseline of information, and to learn more about how populations of animals have changed with the advent of advanced human technology. And, of course, the scientists also used these past and present data to consider what the future holds for the ocean.
A handful of the many achievements of the Census of Marine Life:
- Tagged and tracked animals to map their migration, foraging and breeding patterns, and found a great white shark 'cafe' where the large fish congregate in the open ocean of the Pacific when traveling between California and Hawaii.
- Sampled more than 250 coastal ecosystem sites, some of which will continue to be sampled for long-term comparisons of biodiversity.
- Developed a sampling and monitoring method that allows for consistent measurement of biodiversity on coral ecosystems.
- Discovered 85 new zooplankton species while sampling from every ocean basin.
- Catalogued more than 7,000 Arctic animal species while documenting community changes over time in the region.
- Explored the abyssal regions of the ocean, vents and seeps, and other geologic features, like seamounts.
- Created a global database, the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), that holds biological, physical and geochemical oceanographic information about almost 120,000 species.
- Examined marine population data to show how humans have impacted the ocean and predict what the future might hold.
- Inventoried the staggering diversity of ocean microbes - their genetic diversity, range and abundance.
- Found that variation in habitat explains around a third of the differences in distribution and abundance of fishes and invertebrates by studying the Gulf of Maine.
- Tracked 18 species of animals along the U.S. and Canada's West Coast using acoustic technology to better understand their movements and distribution.
- Probed the ecosystems of the continental shelf, finding deep-sea coral and other life in mud along the slopes sustained by detritus.
- Inspired several books about the accomplishments of the Census of Marine Life (including Citizens of the Sea, World Ocean Census, Discoveries of the Census of Marine Life, and Life in the World¹s Oceans) as well as the feature film Oceans.