What lurks, crawls and swims beneath? The first ever marine census has the answers

Following a decade of oceanic exploration and the work of 2700 scientists from 80 countries, including Australia, the first ever Marine census is finally complete.

The census presents an unprecedented picture of the diversity, distribution and abundance of all kinds of marine life – from microbes to whales, from the icy poles to the warm tropics, and from our shorelines to the deepest darkest depths of the ocean.

The project resulted in the Ocean Biogeographic Information System which is a database of the names and addresses of all known ocean species as well as exposing the vast areas of ocean that have never been explored.

This will enable scientists to track the future impact of things such as climate change, ocean acidity levels and oil spills on the marine environment.

The project was led by Australian scientist, Dr Ian Poiner who believes the beauty, wonder and importance of marine life are hard to overstate.

“All surface life depends on life inside and beneath the oceans. Sea life provides half of our oxygen and a lot of our food and regulates climate. We are all citizens of the sea,” Dr Poiner said.

“And 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 on this globe,” he said.

Former Chief Scientist for Australia Professor Penny Sackett said the census was an outstanding testament to the importance of international collaboration.

“The information in this census is some of the most valuable data available to us in our studies of environmental science, biology and the impact of humanity on our natural resources,” Professor Sackett said.

“Critically, it will also serve as a baseline to measure future change, leaving a legacy for decades to come,” she said.

“I congratulate the international marine science community on this extraordinary effort that will pay dividends far into the future .”


In the abyssal Pacific Ocean at 5000m, a sea cucumber ingests sediments from around a field of manganese nodules. It is a widely distributed deposit feeder that uses its upright 'sail'  to use current energy for transport along the seafloor. Credit: Ifremer, Nordinaut cruise 2004

In the abyssal Pacific Ocean at 5000m, a sea cucumber ingests sediments from around a field of manganese nodules. It is a widely distributed deposit feeder that uses its upright 'sail' to use current energy for transport along the seafloor. Credit: Ifremer, Nordinaut cruise 2004

A pink siphonophore, from the Sargasso Sea is actually a colonial organism similar to the Portugese Man O'War. Credit: Laurene Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

A pink siphonophore, from the Sargasso Sea is actually a colonial organism similar to the Portugese Man O'War. Credit: Laurene Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Flamingo tongue snail was photographed near Grand Caymen, British West Indies, and is listed in the Gulf of Mexico biodiversity inventory. Credit: Kacy Moody

Flamingo tongue snail was photographed near Grand Caymen, British West Indies, and is listed in the Gulf of Mexico biodiversity inventory. Credit: Kacy Moody

A fathead trawled during the NORFANZ expeditions at a depth between 1013m and 1340m, on the Norfolk Ridge, north-west of New Zealand. Credit: NORFANZ Founding Parties Photographer Kerryn Parkingson

A fathead trawled during the NORFANZ expeditions at a depth between 1013m and 1340m, on the Norfolk Ridge, north-west of New Zealand. Credit: NORFANZ Founding Parties Photographer Kerryn Parkingson

Thumbnail image: Three subarctic sunflower stars crawl along the seafloor in shallow waters off Knight Island in Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA. Credit: Casey Debenham, University of Alaska Fairbanks.