Ocean Census underwater shot

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Ocean Census: New initiative aims to unite maritime partners in quest to discover 100,000 new species in a decade

27 April 2023

A global and collaborative initiative to discover more of our ocean life, Ocean Census, has been launched at the National Institute in London today (April 27).  With less than 10 per cent of marine life identified and more than two million species still to be discovered, an open network of science, business, media, and civil society organisations have taken on the task, combining efforts to create the largest programme of its kind.

Founded by UK-based marine science and conversation institute, Nekton, and The Nippon Foundation, the largest non-profit foundation in Japan, the initiative will bring together vessels from various sectors to facilitate its mission. It will also use advanced subsea technology, divers and deep-sea robots, plus global scientists embarking on an array of expeditions to ocean biodiversity hotspots. The species discovered will be sent for high-resolution imaging and DNA sequencing.

The programme builds on past legacies of the Challenger Expeditions, conducted during the beginnings of modern marine science between 1872 and 1876, and The Census of Marine Life from 2000 until 2010. Their ambitious target stands to find at least 100,000 new marine species in the first decade of launch. 

Speaking at the launch event, the chairman of Nekton, Rupert Grey, highlighted the importance of having a greater understanding of the world’s oceans. “It is significant failure of our generation’s custodianship of the planet to know so little about so much,” he said. “Ocean Census’s objective is to redeem that failure. If between us all we fail with the task humanity will die, but the ocean of course will survive.”

During the launch event, experts explained that since the 1800s the average rate of discovering new species hasn't accelerated, despite the advancement in technology.  Today, an average of around 2,000 new marine species are identified annually, but finding and scientifically describing life continues to be a slow process. However,  Ocean Census aims to change this and hopes to accelerate it up to an average of 10,000 per year. 

"Revolutions in technologies such as digital imaging, sequencing and machine learning now make it possible to discover ocean life at speed and at scale", said professor Alex Rogers, Ocean Census science director.

"It currently takes one to two years to several decades to describe a new species after it is collected by scientists but utilising new technologies and sharing the knowledge gained using cloud-based approaches, it will now only take a few months," continued Rogers.

Alongside global partners Ocean Census want to utilise the power of private vessels over the next decade.

“New technologies that are coming online will make it easier for anyone that is at sea to participate,” said Dr Jyotika Virmani, executive director of Schmidt Ocean Institute, an Ocean Census partner. “The beauty of having all these vessels involved is it is a huge opportunity. We can’t get everywhere with scientific vessels, so having that easy-to-use capability to gather that data is enormous.”

Rogers agreed that private vessels could have significant role to play in the research. “Private vessels involved in Ocean Census will range from [research] vessels like Falkor (too) and REV Ocean, all the way down to small, private yachts where they might be dropping scuba divers into an area where they can take water samples,” he explained. “We should be able to create standardised sampling kits of those vessels to collect scientific data for us. There is a large role for private vessels of all scales in this programme.” 

The open-sourced data hopes to revolutionise the understanding of our planet and map out how to move forward in protecting the oceans – data will be made accessible to all scientists, decision-makers and the public.

If you are interested in learning more about the ocean and the role that the yachting industry can play in its conservation, you can find out more about Ocean Talks below.  Ocean Census director and chief executive of Nekton, Oliver Steeds, will be speaking about the project during the evening event.

Learn more about Ocean Talks

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