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Scientists Report Major Steps towards 1st Census of Marine Life

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10 November 2008


Mr. Terry Collins , +1-416-878-8712 +1-416-538-8712

Ms. Darlene Trew Crist , +1-401-295-1356 +1-401-952-7692

Mr. Gregg Schmidt, +1-202- 448-1231

Experts in all world regions are available for advance interviews.

The 4thCoML highlights report will be officially released at the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity, Valencia, Spain, Nov. 11-15. Video and high-resolution images are online at

Meeting in Spain, global crew shares progress towards historic Census in 2010

Among revelations in fourth interim global report:

Antarctic ancestry of many octopus species,

Behemoth bacteria, colossal sea stars, mammoth mollusks, more

The 2,000-strong community of Census of Marine Life scientists from 82 nations today announced astonishing examples of recent new finds from the world's ocean depths.

As more than 500 delegates gather for the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity (Valencia, Spain Nov. 11-15), organized by the Census's European affiliate program on Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning, the report details major progress towards the first ever marine life census, for release in October, 2010. In Spain, renowned marine scientists will announce more new and surprising results daily throughout the event, to be opened with a news conference in Valencia Tues. Nov. 11.

In the fourth report issued since the global collaboration began in the year 2000, Census scientists say their work is:

  • Compiling an unprecedented number of "firsts" for ocean biodiversity
  • Advancing technology for discovery
  • Organizing knowledge about marine life and making it accessible
  • Measuring effects of human activities on ocean life
  • Providing the foundation for scientifically-based policies

According to Ian Poiner, chair of the Census's International Scientific Steering Committee and Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Institute of Marine Science:

"The release of the first Census in 2010 will be a milestone in science. After 10 years of new global research and information assembly by thousands of experts the world over, it will synthesize what humankind knows about the oceans, what we don't know, and what we may never know – a scientific achievement of historic proportions."

"Dedication and cooperation are enabling the largest, most complex program ever undertaken in marine biology to meet its schedule and reach its goals. When the program began, such progress seemed improbable to many observers."

In 2010, the first global Census will relate:

With regard to distribution , the Census will offer:

  • Range maps for known marine species
  • Major global traffic patterns of top marine species
  • Global maps of species richness, showing hotspots and the extent of biodiversity in the oceans

With regard to diversity , the Census will offer:

  • A complete list of named marine species, likely to range between 230,000-250,000, as well as fresh estimates of species yet to be discovered
  • Web pages for the great majority of the named species, compiled in cooperation with the Encyclopedia of Life
  • DNA identifiers ("barcodes") for many species

With regard to abundance , the Census will offer:

  • New estimates of biomass at various levels in the food chain and for selected species
  • Estimates of changes in the relative frequency of small versus large animals
  • Estimates of abundance that has been or might be lost soon.

Top highlights, fourth progress report of the Census of Marine Life:

Antarctic ancestry of many deep-sea octopuses worldwide

Within their mandate "to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine life in the oceans – past, present, and future," Census of Antarctic Marine Life scientists report the first molecular evidence that a large proportion of deep sea octopus species worldwide evolved from common ancestor species that still exist in the Southern Ocean.

Octopuses started migrating to new ocean basins more than 30 million years ago when, as Antarctica cooled and a large icesheet grew, nature created a "thermohaline expressway," a northbound flow of tasty frigid water with high salt and oxygen content.

Isolated in new habitat conditions, many different species evolved some octopuses, for example, losing their defensive ink sacs – pointless at perpetually dark depths.

This revelation into the global distribution and diversity of deep sea fauna, to be reported Nov. 11 in the journal Cladistics, was made possible by intensive sampling during Census International Polar Year expeditions.

Highlights on offer include as well:


  • Scientists discover both a "White Shark Café" and a "sturgeon playground" in the Pacific, as others explore life on a "new continent" in the mid-Atlantic, in oceanic canyons, around Earth's deepest hot vents, and in the world's coldest, saltiest seawater


  • Deep sea explorers discover new forms of life, including behemoth bacteria, colossal sea stars, astonishing Antarctic amphipods and a mammoth mollusk, and find familiar species in many new places. Experts also estimate that, beyond the 16,000 marine fish species already known to science, another 4,000 await discovery, many of them in the tropics.


  • Researchers find a sea floor carpet of bugs and a city of brittle stars, and document bluefin tuna abundance in the early 1900s by scouring fishery reports, fishing magazines and other records.

Meanwhile, the Ocean Biogeographic Information System has grown to include more than 120,000 species. And a rapidly-expanding reference library of DNA barcodes of marine species recently helped reveal inaccurate labeling of sushi in New York City and elsewhere.

As well, the national and regional networks expediting much of the Census work expanded from 10 to 12 since 2006. They and the field projects of the Census established precedent-setting ethical standards for marine research.

For further information, please contact:

Ms Wendy Ellery ,AIMS Media Liaison

Phone: 07 4753 4409

Mobile: 0418 729 265

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