Marine census publication marks 'decade of discovery'

the_gulf_of_alaska the_arctic_ocean the_philippines the_hawaiin_islands the_caribbean the_indonesian_islands heron_island

Scientists are celebrating the completion of a decade-long study of life in the world's oceans - watch a selection of rarely-seen footage from their research.

Caribbean creatures

Pufferfish

Trumpetfish and Spiny Pufferfish among a montage of creatures living in the waters around Bonaire, one of the five island territories of the Netherlands Antilles.

Philippines sea life

Jellyfish

Footage of Tomato Clown Fish and other creatures living in the waters around Bohol, an island province of the Philippines.

Alaskan sea life

Copepod

Juvenile Sea Butterflies and other creatures filmed in the sub-Arctic Gulf of Alaska, part of the North Pacific Ocean.

Australia's Heron Island

Blue Featherduster Tube Worm

Blue Featherduster Tube Worms and other creatures living in the waters around Heron Island in the southern Great Barrier Reef off Australia.

Hawaiian sea life

Bristle Worm

Bristle Worms and other creatures living in the waters around Oahu, the largest of the Hawaiian islands.

Life in the Arctic Ocean

Sea Angel Pteropod

Sea Angel Pteropods among a montage of creatures which inhabit the Arctic Ocean.

Indonesian islands

Peacock Mantis Shrimp

Gigantic Sea Anemones and others creatures filmed in the waters around the Indonesian island of Komodo.

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The first Census of Marine Life (CoML) hopes to act as a baseline of how human activity is affecting previously unexplored marine ecosystems.

The international project involved more than 2,700 researchers from 80 nations, who spent a total of 9,000 days at sea during at least 540 expeditions.

It has been described as the most comprehensive study of its kind.

"This co-operative international 21st Century voyage has systematically defined for the first time both the known and the vast unknown, unexplored ocean," said Ian Poiner, chairman of the Census Steering Committee, speaking before a conference that is being held in Central London to mark the "decade of discovery".

"All surface life depends on life inside and beneath the oceans," he added.

"Sea life provides half of our oxygen, a lot of our food and regulates the climate. While much remains unknown, including at least 750,000 undiscovered species and their roles, we are better acquainted now with our fellow travellers and their vast habitat."

Unchartered waters

The $650m (£413m) research programme, involving more that 670 institutions, set out in 2000 with the aim of answering three questions: what lived in the oceans? What does live in the oceans? What will live in the oceans?

Deep-sea jellyfish Bathykorus bouilloni, found in the Arctic Ocean (Image: CoML/Kevin Raskoff) Many species considered rare were found in plentiful numbers in previously unexplored waters

Even after a decade of exploring the planet's marine habitats, Census scientists say it is still not possible to reliably estimate the total number of marine species.

However, the collection of millions of specimens has led to researchers identifying more than 6,000 potentially new species, of which 1,200 have been formally described.

The findings also prompted scientists to increase the estimate of known marine species from about 230,000 to almost 250,000.

The Census's 17 projects covered a diverse array of research, from improving our understanding of coral reef ecosystems to exploring mid-Atlantic ridges.

Over the past decade, scientists working on the projects have published more than 2,600 scientific papers and compiled the largest dataset of marine species.

Dr Bhavani Narayanaswamy explains some of the findings of the census

Technological advances, such as "DNA barcoding", have also given researchers access to information that was previously unobtainable.

"Many Census technologies can soon become part of a regular ocean observing system that provides timely reporting on the health of life in the oceans," explained Professor Ron O'Dor, co-senior scientist.

Although the current programme was complete, leader of Census Studies of the Future, Professor Boris Worm, said many more challenges remained.

"The rapidly changing ocean that we are now uncovering helps us to understand ourselves," he said.

"It compels us both to continue with journeys of discovery and to make wise choices in the future."

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