6 January 2012

On 16 October 2011 the Scientific Steering Committee of the Census of Marine Life formally received Japan’s International Cosmos Prize in an elegant ceremony in Osaka. Jesse Ausubel joined Ian Poiner, Myriam Sibuet, Victor Gallardo, Patricia Miloslavich, and Yoshihisa Shirayama in accepting the prize. Following is the brief statement of acceptance.

On Receiving the International Cosmos Prize

The Scientific Steering Committee of the Census of Marine Life

We are thrilled that the International Cosmos Prize, rooted in greenery, honors the blue world.  Humanity every day has opportunities to see the beauty of nature on land, exemplified by flowers and gardens and their changes through the seasons. Until recently, humanity could see little of life in the vast, dark, and deep oceans. We transferred a few forms of marine life into aquariums, but we did not even have a list of the forms of life in the ocean or a reliable estimate of how many forms of life remain to be discovered.

In the late 1990s, marine biologists became convinced that new technologies and international cooperation could make possible the first Census of Marine Life. The goal was to bridge polar and tropical seas, shallow and deep waters, and small and large organisms in an exploration and documentation of marine life. The members of the international Scientific Steering Committee of the Census of Marine Life had the privilege of encouraging and assisting more than 2700 researchers from over 80 nations to participate. We humbly accept the International Cosmos Prize on behalf of the entire community of researchers who succeeded in realizing the dream of a Census. The discovery of one another’s talents, and the consequent rapport and respect, form a major legacy of the Census matching the global scale of the ocean’s questions.

We also thank all the organizations that enabled the Census, including marine laboratories and universities, natural history museums and aquariums, navies, governmental and intergovernmental organizations that support and coordinate ocean and biodiversity science, and private corporations and foundations who gave technical and financial support. We specially note the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation of New York, which provided funds to assess the feasibility of the Census and then to coordinate the Census through its decade.

We are proud that the Census advanced both the microscopic and the macroscopic. The Census described in detail more than 1200 new species. It also discovered immense global patterns of diversity, distribution, and abundance based on tens of millions of observations united in a modern database freely accessible to everyone. We are proud that the beauty and mystery of marine life attracted artists and historians as well as natural scientists and that the Census became a united celebration of many forms of the power of human observation. Together, we learned that the oceans are richer, more connected, and more altered than anyone had known.

May the extraordinary honor of the International Cosmos Prize prove that the oceans can symbolize the harmonious coexistence between nature and humanity. What the Census discovered, what the Census showed that has already been lost, and what the Census showed remains to be discovered give urgency to achieving such harmony, our best gift to future generations.  The ocean can be Earth’s largest garden – and wilderness.

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