Riches Beyond Your Wildest Dreams: More on the Census of Marine life

I had planned to write a cool post about tides today, followed by one or more about tide pools, the intertidal zone, and other (possibly) related topics.  I’d even thought of a clever title (which I won’t tell you in case you disagree with my wit).  But then, as often happens, I was distracted by something else, something pretty, shiny, new, and totally cool. My copy of the “World Ocean Census” arrived in the mail.*

The World Ocean Census is one of the popular science books that catalogue the findings of the Census of Marine Life, that treasure trove of riches I told you about in an earlier post, and promised to write about again (and again, and again). As I started to peruse this beautiful volume, it became harder and harder to pick a topic.

Should I focus on the sooty shearwater, found to have the greatest migratory route of any organism? This little bird clocks 40,000 miles a year in its annual migration between New Zealand and the northern Pacific. No, that’s not a typo, it’s forty THOUSAND miles a year, up to 550 a day, with dives to 200 feet to hunt its usual prey of fish, squid, and krill.

A sooty shearwater taking a much-deserved rest.

Perhaps I should take a look at seamounts, underwater mountains or hills rising 3,000 feet or more from the ocean floor that are often hotspots of biodiversity in the vast ocean? Over 40% of the species found on any given seamount are unique to that particular spot. Over the course of the census, thousands of new species were discovered on seamounts – over 600 on 5 seamounts alone! How did this incredible richness arise? Does the isolation of one seamount from another encourage the development of new species? Are seamounts refuges for species whose ranges have shrunk? Only about 400 seamounts have been sampled to date, and only 100 in any detail, so we have yet to answer these questions, but the census has brought us that much closer.

Or maybe I should examine the activities that threaten these amazing species and ecosystems. “Overfishing and pollution were identified as the main threats to biodiversity across all regions, followed by alien species, altered temperature, acidification, and hypoxia, although their relative importance varied among regions.” These threats are real, and accelerating. So science must do the same. “There is a need to accelerate the discovery of marine biodiversity, since much of it may be lost without even being known.”

At the very least, let’s accelerate our discovery of the known, shall we? To begin with, I’ll let you in on a secret, something amazing that I have discovered: as a result of the Census of Marine Life, hundreds of articles have been published in scientific journals, much of them are in open access journals such as the Public Library of Science (PLOS One). So expect to see more about the amazing, spectacular, and ever extraordinary (is that enough, you think?) creatures that live in the world’s ocean in the weeks to come.

Crazy about octopus? Mad about sharks? Can’t get enough about bryozoans? (Hey, it’s possible – assuming you know what a bryozoan is…). Let me know, and perhaps that’s what will get pulled out of the Census magic hat next time!

Until then – follow daniellemeitiv on Twitter – and you can “like” this blog on Facebook, too! Much appreciated.


PLoS ONE: Marine Biodiversity and Biogeography – Regional Comparisons of Global Issues (2010) PLoS Collections:

Costello MJ, Coll M, Danovaro R, Halpin P, Ojaveer H, et al. (2010) A Census of Marine Biodiversity Knowledge, Resources, and Future Challenges. PLoS ONE 5(8): e12110. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012110

*FYI – I purchased a “used copy, good condition” for $10 less than the cover price, at Valore books. It arrived shrink-wrapped, clearly brand-new. Go figure – and hop on over to get one for yourself:


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