Hundreds of scientists from all over the world are working on something never attempted before--a census of marine life, nicknamed CoML. The census, which counts ocean dwellers from microbes to the largest marine mammals, is jointly sponsored by governments and foundations across four continents and is coordinated by a secretariat at the Consortium of Oceanographic Research and Education in Washington, D.C.
Researchers will estimate what once lived in the oceans using archival information from monastic annals, ship logs, as well as sediment cores and other records. Scientists will also document present-day populations and where they are found. These baselines will be combined with oceanographic data in mathematical models to predict potential scenarios for the future state of the oceans.
In his article, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish: What is the Value of a Census of Marine Life in the fall 2004 issue of Resources magazine, RFF Fellow James N. Sanchirico describes three of the projects covered by the census of marine life: a study of worldwide coastal waters, observations of creatures who travel across the Pacific Ocean, and a look at what lives in the some of the deepest parts of the ocean, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
Equally important, Sanchirico argues that to get more than just species guidebooks, organizers should provide support for policy committees that can help inform the research agenda and help shape how the research is used to improve management of ocean resources.
For an expanded version of Sanchirico's analysis of the CoML, read his discussion paper, A Social Scientist's Perspective on the Potential Benefits of the Census of Marine Life.