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The Census of Marine Life Home Page

Scientists Gear Up for Effort to Record Ocean Life

By REUTERS, February 22, 2001

SYDNEY – Marine scientists from across Australia are meeting at laboratories this week as part of an ambitious $1 billion international attempt to record all life in the world’s oceans, officials said Wednesday.

The International Census of Marine Life, being led by U.S. groups, could settle once and for all whether fabled animals such as Jules Verne’s giant squid populate the uncharted ocean depths.

“We should give them (giant squids) a run for their money if they were (down there),” said Don Michel, communications director of the Marine Research division of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

Only around five percent of the world’s oceans have been surveyed for marine life — mostly in coastal regions.

The international census, expected to take 10 years, is being promoted by Jesse Ausubel of the U.S.-based Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that fosters scientific programs.

An international steering committee from marine research institutions in the United States, Europe and Japan is due to release a scientific strategy for the data collection of the census later this year.


So far 63 institutions in 15 countries had begun work around the world on an ocean bio-geographical information system that would support the census, Ausubel said in a CSIRO statement.

The Australian scientists were meeting in Hobart, on the island of Tasmania, to discuss Australia’s possible contribution to the project

The census would be conducted through multi-scanning technologies which can map the acoustic signatures of a wide range of sea life, Michel told Reuters.

Subsequent physical sampling of selected areas would then produce data that would be fed into super computers which would create models to produce fairly accurate estimates of most major forms of marine life.

The census would also use advanced electronic data-storage tags to track and monitor the behavior of large animals at the top of the food chain, such as whales, sea turtles and tuna, offering clues to the distribution and abundance of many other marine species, Ausubel said.

In addition, plans were under way to charter a ship “to go around the world in a Charles Darwin sort of way,” conducting deep water tests for viruses and bacteria, Michel said.

“(There could be) huge pharmaceutical applications,” he said.

The census project is expected to be backed by about $500 million from the United States, with the remaining $500 million expected to be contributed by Japan, Europe and other participants including Australia, Michel said.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company