World Conference on Marine Biodiversity Highlights Progress towards Completing First Census of Marine Life

Author:  Getz Matthew
Date:  November 2008

More than 700 delegates of the Census of Marine Life community convened in Valencia, Spain from November 11-15, 2008 at the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity. The purpose of the meeting was to report on developments made on the compilation of the first ever marine life census, due to be completed by October 2010. The conference represented the fourth meeting of the community to highlight progress on the census since it began in 2000.

The census has the overall goal of relating the distribution, diversity, and abundance of different marine species. More specifically, it seeks to make new discoveries about ocean biodiversity; advance new technologies used to make these discoveries; compile, organize and make the findings accessible to the public; assess the impact of human activities on the oceans; and set forth a foundation that scientifically based policies can be built upon. In achieving this goal, it will provide a complete list of up to 250,000 named species, range maps, web pages and DNA identifiers or "barcodes" for a great number of the known species, and new estimates of the biomass at various trophic levels in marine food chains.

Some exciting discoveries highlighted at the meeting were the Antarctic ancestral origins of many species of octopi, hundreds of new species found on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at depths of 2500 meters, the world's deepest known active hot vent near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at 4100 meters deep, a "Brittle Star City" off the coast of New Zealand with tens of millions brittle stars living in close proximity, and a comb jelly living more than 7000 meters deep near the Ryukyu Trench near Japan. Other developments highlighted discoveries in previously unexplored regions of oceans, new forms of life, and completely unexpected finds, such as a diverse group of "giant, filamentous, multi-cellular bacteria" in the eastern South Pacific.

"The release of the first Census in 2010 will be a milestone in 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," said Ian Poiner, chair of the Census's International Scientific Steering Committee.

A full press release from the meeting can be viewed at:

Written by: Matthew Getz

Reviewed by: Tetyana Pekar

Published by: Hoi See Tsao