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Ten Year Study Provides Unprecedented View of Marine Life

Sea AngelHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Many of the 2,700 scientists involved in the Global Census of Marine Life are meeting this month (October 7-10, 2010) in London to discuss the information they have gathered over the past 10 years.  In what is surely one of the largest scientific collaborations ever undertaken, researchers studied creatures ranging from microorganisms to whales in habitats stretching from pole to pole and shoreline to ocean abyss. 

Grand Ecosystems and Grand Studies

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the world’s marine habitats and the billions of organisms that make their homes in them – from providing one half the world’s oxygen and much of humanity’s food to influencing climate the world over, their influence cannot be escaped. 

The Global Census of Marine Life, which sought to document the diversity of life in these habitats, was designed on an equally impressive scale – spanning a 10 year period, it took thousands of scientists from 80 countries and 670 institutions on 540 major expeditions, at a cost of over $650 million dollars.  Thirty million observations of over 120,000 species (over 6,000 of which were new to science), were logged, resulting in 2,600 academic papers and 3 major books.  I’ve quickly reviewed one of the books, Citizens of the Sea (National Geographic), and found it to be well worth reading (please see article below for info on all 3 books).  From hairy crabs to a fish bearing fangs on its tongue, the surprising creatures that came to light were legion (please see article below).

Many of the papers generated by census researchers are available on line, which should add greatly to their value by prompting wide readership, questions and comments.  Numerous new research tools and methods were also developed, many of which may also be accessed on the Internet. 

Sampling the Findings

Obviously, analysis of even a small portion of the information generated by Global Census of Marine Life will take quite some time.  Consider, for example, that segment of the study that focused on marine microbes (microscopic organisms). 

Dumbo OctopusAlthough they do their work out of sight and, for most of us, out of mind, microbes truly do rule the earth by shaping biological processes in each and every habitat.  It was legendary scientist E.O. Wilson, I believe, who estimated that the life on earth would grind to a halt within a few weeks if all insects were to vanish.  Without microbes, that period would be shortened considerably. 

Census researchers believe there may be over 1 billion microbe species in the sea – and we understand next to nothing about most of them.  A single quart of sea water may contain 38,000 species of microbes (that’s species, not individuals!).

Well, those interested in marine life now have a few lifetimes’ worth of new info to mull over…please send along your thoughts on any interesting material you may come across. 


Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio


Further Reading

You can learn more about the books and key findings generated by this study, and read comments from participating researchers here.

Amazing videos of creatures found during the census.


  1. avatar
    Dr.Sujit Sundaram

    Very nice article…i would like to know more about these…as i am a marine biologist…

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.