Census of Marine Life Releases New Findings

I doubt many of you have heard of the Census of Marine Life, or if you have, that you know the full breadth of the project. Sure, you may have seen news articles about new marine species discoveries, but the Census of Marine Life (CoML) is hardly mentioned in these articles, if at all.

The project began in 2000, and is a 10 year project involving more than 2,000 scientists, from 82 countries. The scientific framework of the project is to answer three questions:

  1. What has lived in the oceans?
  2. What does live in the oceans?
  3. What will live in the oceans?

The goal of the census is to assess and explain the diversity, distribution and abundance of life in the global ocean, and hopes to create the first ever catalog of marine life. Affiliated projects include the World Register of Marine Species and the Marine Barcode of Life. As of October 2008, the census has discovered more than 5,300 new, undescribed marine animals since 2003. So far 111 have gone through the review process for designation as a new species. The project is discovering new species faster than they are able to describe them! (There are 230,000 known marine species).

New discoveries, from the 4th update of the census, include:

  • a city of brittle stars on a seamount off the coast of New Zealand. The passing current flows by at 2.5 mph, offering a bounty of food.
  • a carpet of 12,000 tiny crustaceans on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, near the Mississippi Canyon.
  • an Antarctic thermohaline expressway that transports octopi
  • The census found that many deep-sea octopi evolved from a common ancestor species that still exists in the Southern Ocean (also known as the Antarctic Ocean). They were then distributed by the highly salty, highly oxygenated current. Worldwide, deep-sea octopi lack an ink sack, as it is unnecessary to ink in a dark environment.

Previous findings include: the highly-publicized “yeti crab” in the deep Pacific, the giant spiny lobsters off of Madagascar, and the Marginaster seastars of Tasmania.

They have also found giant crustaceans, sea stars, and sea spiders the size of dinner plates. Almost as creepy-looking as land-dwelling spiders!!!

“The release of the first Census in 2010 will be a milestone in science,” said Ian Poiner, chair of the Census’s International Scientific Steering Committee and Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Institute of Marine 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.”


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