Started in the year 2000, Census of Marine Life (CoML) is an international science research program uniting thousands of researchers worldwide with the goal of assessing and explaining the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine life - past, present and future - by 2010.
The Census includes the identification of 5,300 potentially new species. The deepwater jellyfish (Crossota norvegica) was photographed during a Census of Marine Life expedition to the deep Canada Basin in 2005.
Photograph Courtesy Kevin Raskoff/NOAA/Handout/Reuters/Corbis
World Ocean Census: A Global Survey of Marine Life published by Firefly Books, October 15, 2009, is the only officially sanctioned book to bring the Census and its discoveries to the general reader.
Life on Earth sprang from the ocean and to a remarkable extent it still depends on this water body that covers 71 percent of our planet’s surface. Yet, very little of the ocean has been scientifically investigated. That is rapidly changing with the first-ever Census of Marine Life (CoML), a worldwide 10-year undertaking involving thousands of scientists from more than 80 nations.
A physonect siphonophore, Marrus orthocanna, photographed during the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Artic “Hidden Ocean” expedition in support of the Census of Marine Life. Photograph Courtesy Kevin Raskoff.
Written by a team of CoML’s scientists and educators, Darlene Trew Crist, Gail Scowcroft, James M. Harding, Jr., it offers an unprecedented journey to the ocean depths, enabling readers to go behind-the-scenes of the study’s extraordinary findings and adventures.
Pages 26-27 from the book. This spectacular blue-eyed hermit crab (Paragiopagurus diogenes) is an example of Census discoveries that raise more questions than answers. The shiny gold on the claws of this crab, captured in the French Frigate Shoals off the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, is a phenomenon not seen before. Scientists believe it serves as a form of communication. Attached to its shell, the crab also has its very own species of anemone (the fuzzy brown area underneath), which is not known to attach to any other species of hermit crab.
Photograph courtesy Susan Middleton
Sylvia Earle, PhD, ambassador for the World’s Ocean and National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence wrote in her Forward to the book that “The importance of the Census is made urgent because at the same time that more is being learned about the diversity of life in the sea than during all preceding history, more is being lost….”
“Some will treasure the World Ocean Census as a valuable reference, others as a place to find white-knuckle adventures. The images alone will cause many to re-evaluate their concepts of what astonishing forms are embraced within the bounds of what constitutes an eye, a heart, a body of living tissue. The underlying similarities shared by all living things – humans very much included – shine through, while maintaining wonder at the infinite capacity for diversity: from the broad divisions of life to the individual speckles and shapes that distinguish each sardine, salp and starfish from every other of its kind. Above all, the breakthroughs in knowledge gained, and awareness of the magnitude of what remains to be discovered, inspire hope that the greatest era of ocean exploration – and ocean care - will now begin.”
Page 24: This fabulously marked polychaete, or marine tube worm, Loima sp., inhabits the waters off Lizard Island, Queensland, Australia. Photograph Courtesy Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum
Page 25: The spines on this crab larvae (spiny decapod megalops), although beautiful, serve as protection and camouflage. Photograph Courtesy Cheryl Clarke Hopcroft
The Census of Marine Life set out to answer three basic questions:
What lived in the ocean?
What lives in the ocean?
What will live in the ocean?
These questions are of vital importance as scientists seek to understand the impact global warming and other factors—past and present—have had on the world’s oceans, and what that portends for the future.
World Ocean Census presents the answers to the three questions, as well as findings from the study’s additional goals:
To assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine life
To record how many of each species the ocean contains, where they live now, and where else they could live if/when habitats disappear
To describe the life found in deep, previously unexplored areas that new technology is opening to scientists for the first time.
Pages 46-47: An amazing array of exquisitely beautiful animals, such as this jeweled squid (Histioteuthis bonelli), has been found in the previously little-explored dark zone of the world’s ocean.
Photograph Courtesy David Shale
The Census of Marine Life, which will release its scientific report in 2010, is a project of extraordinary range and scope, as benefits its subject. Census researchers have journeyed to remote and dangerous places; charted the past using means as diverse as scientific reports, whaler’s logs, and seafood menus; and explored previously unexplored ecosystems. In the Antarctic, for example, climate change and melting ice shelves gave CoML researchers access to pristine portions of the ocean floor that had been sealed off for at least 5,000 years.
Photo on left , page 110: An Antarctic fur seal mother and pup represent current and future generations of potential animal observers. With the help of these research assistants, scientists may be able to prevent the loss of their polar habitat to global climate change. Photograph Courtesy Dan Costa
Photo on right: page 111: “SealTeam 1” poses with its latest recruit in its mission to collect data about the undersampled Antarctic ocean.“Seal tagging and getting on an ice floe below the Antarctic Circle in the dead of winter down here – that is about as wild as it gets!” says Mark Harris. Photograph Courtesy Dan Costa
Among the study’s many important discoveries:
Half of all the world’s food currently comes from the sea
90 percent of all large fish, such as tuna and swordfish, have disappeared from the oceans in the past 50 years
The “great Pacific garbage patch,” a flotilla of trash that traps and kills marine life, is now nearly the size of Africa
Half of the Caribbean coral reefs and one quarter of the world’s coral reefs overall have died due to pollution, destruction, and increasing water temperatures
There is no part of the ocean that is not overfished. At the present rate, commercial fisheries could collapse by 2048.
1/2 the coral reefs in the Caribbean and 1/4 of the reefs around the world are now dead, devoid of oxygen and unable to support life (due to pollution, physical destruction and increasing ocean water temperatures)
There are now more than 400 dead zones around the world (double the amount reported 2 years ago) that affect a total area of 245,000 square km (98,000 square miles)
According to the Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN, an estimated 75% of
major fisheries are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted
"there is nowhere left in the ocean not overfished"
The Census includes the identification of 5,300 potentially new species.
Photo on left, page 148: This goggle-eyed worm belongs to the phylum Polychaeta, a group of segmented worms named for their many bristles (poly=many, chaete= bristle). Many species in this family undergo a spectacular transformation as they become sexually mature: both sexes develop huge eyes, while most of the bodysegments and bristles become paddleshaped. Photograph Courtesy National History Museum of LA County
Photo on right : This striking shrimp was collected from French Frigate Shoals in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Photograph Courtesy Gustav Paulay
In the book, readers will learn how the mystery of new life forms are revealed, how CoML research was planned and executed, how animals are tagged and tracked, and about the cutting-edge technologies that enabled this mammoth endeavor. Hundreds of breathtaking, full-color photographs plunge one deep into the ocean to see some of the millions of species—from the smallest microbes to the largest whales—that dwell beneath the waves.
Page 190 Photo top left: Asbestopluma, a never-before-known species of carnivorous sponge about 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) in diameter, engulfs organisms and then digests the imprisoned prey. This is one of four such species, three of them believed new to science, found in the Southern Ocean abyss. Photograph Courtesy Dorte Janussen, Senckenberg, FRG
Bottom left: The Larsen B ice shelf as it appeared in January 2002.
Bottom Right: The area after the ice shelf collapsed in March 2002.
Images Courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center
Page 191 Top: A presumed new species of Epimeria, a 25-millimeter-long (almost an inch) amphipod crustacean, was collected near Elephant Island during an expedition to the Weddell Sea in 2006–07.
Page 191 Bottom: This potentially new giant Antarctic amphipod crustacean – of the genus Eusirus – was one of the stars among the species collected during the trip to the Weddell Sea in 2006–07. Nearly 10 centimeters (4 inches) long, it was sampled by using baited traps off the Antarctic Peninsula.
Photographs Courtesy Cedric D’Udekem D’Acoz, Royal Belgium Institute of Natural Sciences
The global ocean is truly Earth’s final frontier, its myriad secrets only now being revealed. World Ocean Census, and the study it brings to the public eye, are of inestimable importance to Earth’s future and, perhaps, man’s very survival.
Page 206 Above: This is just a small portion of the huge school of cownose rays (Rhinoptera steindachneri) that circled a dive site in the Galapagos Islands.
The information in this article is from World Ocean Census: A Global Survey of Marine Life and from Firefly Books.
Title: World Ocean Census: A Global Survey of Marine Life
Author: By Darlene Trew Crist, Gail Scowcroft, James M. Harding, Jr.;
Foreword By Sylvia Earle
Specs: 256 pages, 9 " x 11", color photographs throughout, glossary, further reading, index; $40.00 Plastic-laminated hardcover with jacket
ISBN: 1-55407-434-7 / 978-1-55407-434-1
Pub Date: October 15, 2009
Publisher: Firefly Books www.fireflybooks.com
A video by the Census of Marine Life about why we need to monitor biodiversity in the oceans and how it can be done using existing technologies on a global scale. For more information visit http://www.coml.org.