Sunday, November 9, 2008

Census of Marine Life

The Census of Marine Life is one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken – to discover and count every species of marine creature on Earth. Starting today and continuing for the rest of the week, Census scientists are releasing updates on their progress as part of the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity, which begins in Valencia, Spain, on Tuesday. As always with these periodic reports, the results include some of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

I’m not alone in being delighted – news reports about underwater singles bars for great white sharks, sea star cities, and octopus expressways are popping up all over the internet.

The Census provides almost as many teaching opportunities as it does species. There are gorgeous photos and videos on the various websites of the institutions involved in the project, and detailed explanations of the findings and implications of the work. Any curriculum that includes basic biologic topics like the importance of diversity, the impacts of overfishing and ocean pollution, and the ongoing effects of climate change will benefit from the data gathered by the Census.

Along with all of that, there is a sense of wonder and excitement that runs through every expedition log and scientific report – there is still so much to see and to discover and to understand. That is as much a gift as the results of the research. I doubt I’d be a biologist if it wasn’t for the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Sitting in my Wisconsin living room, I felt connected to the distant sea and sensed the tug of kinship with its inhabitants. I wonder if the Census of Marine Life could provide the same spark of interest and recognition and that same fierce urge to protect the oceans to a new generation?