Bid Launched for Worldwide Marine Census

Wednesday, February 21, 2001
Marine scientists from across Australia are meeting at laboratories this week as part of an ambitious $1 billion international attempt to record all life in the world's oceans, officials said on Wednesday.

The International Census of Marine Life, being led by U.S. groups, could settle once and for all whether fabled animals such as Jules Verne's giant squid populate the uncharted ocean depths.

Only around five percent of the world's oceans have been surveyed for marine life - mostly in coastal regions.

The international census, expected to take 10 years, is being promoted by Jesse Ausubel of the U.S.-based Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that fosters scientific programs.

An international steering committee from marine research institutions in the U.S., Europe and Japan is due to release a scientific strategy for the data collection of the census later this year. So far 63 institutions in 15 countries had begun work around the world on an ocean bio-geographical information system that would support the census, Ausubel said in a CSIRO statement.

The Australian scientists were meeting in Hobart, on the island of Tasmania, to discuss Australia's possible contribution to the project.

The census reportedly would be conducted through multi-scanning technologies, which can map the acoustic signatures of a wide range of sea life. Subsequent physical sampling of selected areas would then produce data that would be fed into super computers, which would create models to produce fairly accurate estimates of most major forms of marine life.

The census would also use advanced electronic data-storage tags to track and monitor the behavior of large animals at the top of the food chain, such as whales, sea turtles and tuna, offering clues to the distribution and abundance of many other marine species, a Sloan Foundation official said.

In addition, plans were reportedly underway to charter a ship "to go around the world in a Charles Darwin sort of way," conducting deep water tests for viruses and bacteria.

It has been reported that the census project is expected to be backed by about $500 million from the U.S., with the remaining $500 million expected to be contributed by Japan, Europe and other participants including Australia. - (Reuters)

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