The Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML) surveyed the cold Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica in an attempt to understand the biological diversity of this unique and poorly understood environment.
Michael Stoddart, Ph.D., Australian Antarctic Division, Kingston, Tasmania, Australia
Colin Summerhayes, Ph.D., Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, United Kingdom
The Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML) investigated the distribution and abundance of Antarctica’s marine biodiversity, how it has been affected by climate change, and how change will alter the nature of the ecosystem services currently provided by the Southern Ocean for the benefit of mankind.
The CAML was a five-year project that focused the attention of the public on the ice-bound oceans of Antarctica during the International Polar Year (IPY) in 2007/08. Its objective was to study the evolution of life in Antarctic waters, to determine how this has influenced the diversity of the present biota, and to use these observations to predict how it might respond to future change. The CAML collaborated with biological oceanographers in its work, for at its heart lies the integrated nature of ecological and biological change.
Polar regions experience greater rates of climate change than elsewhere on the planet. The fauna of the regions are uniquely adapted to the extreme environments in which they exist, and may be vulnerable to shifts in climate. There is an urgent need to establish the state of these communities, and in particular their biodiversity, if we are to understand the impact of climate change. The CAML project integrated knowledge across all regions, biomes, habitats and fields of study to strengthen our knowledge of ecosystem dynamics in this high latitude, frozen ocean system. Only through a multi-scale level of investigation of this type could a better understanding of the diversity and status of Antarctica's marine life be obtained.
The CAML’s main biodiversity data were collected from 17 research vessels during the IPY. In addition, tourist vessels contributed observations and other ships collected samples using the Continuous Plankton Recorder. The biodiversity data, collected as georeferenced species records, were made available on the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research’s Marine Biodiversity Information Network (SCAR-MarBIN www.scarmarbin.be ) for researchers, governments and others concerned with ocean management.
The CAML left legacy sites for future comparability studies. It employed modern genomic techniques and contributed to the Barcode of Life project, integrating with other Census projects. In particular, the CAML interacted very strongly with the Arctic Ocean Diversity Project (ArcOD), drawing comparisons between differences in ecological structure and dynamics between the Arctic and Southern Oceans.
Visit the Census of Antarctic Marine Life  website.