Thursday, December 17, 2009
First-ever Census of Marine Life
Comprehensive data will aid in ocean conservation
Scientists have identified nearly a quarter of a million marine species to date, and 1,400 more are discovered every year. A decade ago, the world's leading ichthyologists, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, embarked on a seemingly impossible task: to create a list of all known ocean species, showing where they live and how many of them exist. The Census of Marine Life (CoML) was born.
The project has swelled into a collaboration involving over 2,000 scientists from more than 80 nations that investigates marine inhabitants from the past, present and future, approximates how many of each species exist, where they live and the ocean's overall biodiversity. CoML will come to fruition on October 4, 2010, when the results will be made public at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London.
CoML scientists have built computer models to predict the future of the oceans' ecosystems, examining how biodiversity shrinks every year, when species will disappear if current rates of over-fishing continue, and when coral reefs may die out as a result of ocean acidification and climate change. Much of the research is done using newer technologies, including powerful sonar that can detect shrimp nearly two miles underwater, satellite tags that show tuna crossing the Pacific Ocean three times in less than a year, and DNA analysis that can rapidly monitor changes in the oceans' biodiversity.
Scientists will use the findings to guide conservation policy and to help manage fisheries. Although CoML hasn't sparked any bills in the U.S., it has influenced the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the only legal framework that aims to protect the open ocean and deep sea. Before CoML, these laws were held back because of the lack of hard data, but now the information rolling in from the project is informing global legislative agendas. And it's working. As a direct result of the census, vast areas of the world's most vulnerable oceans have been closed to fishing. - B.B.
Popular Science, Jan 2010