Global Census of Marine Life on Seamounts (CenSeam)

A global study of seamount ecosystems, that helped determine their role in the biogeography, biodiversity, productivity, and evolution of marine organisms, and evaluated the effects of human exploitation.

Malcom Clark
Mireille Consalvey
Ashley Rowden
Karen Stocks

Project Leaders:

Malcolm Clark, Ph.D., National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Wellington, New Zealand

Mireille Consalvey, Ph.D., National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Wellington, New Zealand

Ashley Rowden, Ph.D., National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Wellington, New Zealand

Karen Stocks, Ph.D., San Diego Supercomputer Center, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, U.S.A.

Visit the CenSeam website.

Seamounts are ubiquitous features of the world's underwater topography and may play an important role in patterns of marine biogeography, potentially supporting high biodiversity and unique biological communities. Seamounts are often highly productive ecosystems, and may act as feeding grounds for fishes, marine mammals and seabirds. They are targeted for resource extraction such as fisheries and mining, but are ecologically vulnerable to such exploitation. At a global scale their biodiversity is poorly known with relatively few (< 200 of an estimated 100 000) seamounts having been studied in any detail.

CenSeam commenced in 2005 and the CenSeam science community, with particular input from CenSeam's Data Analysis Working Group (DAWG), defined two overarching priority themes (1) What factors drive community composition and diversity on seamounts, including any differences between seamounts and other habitat types? (2) What are the impacts of human activities on seamount community structure and function?

CenSeam strove to coordinate existing and planned programs for maximum benefit, catalyzed new seamount sampling activities, aligned research approaches and data collection where possible to ensure that opportunities for collaboration between programs were maximized, and integrated and analyzed incoming information to create new knowledge. The program worked toward standardizing sampling methods (through the Standardisation Working Group, SWG) and data reporting (through the DAWG) wherever possible, to facilitate comparisons of biodiversity between areas.

CenSeam helped to guide future sampling with a global perspective to fill critical knowledge gaps and target understudied regions and types of seamounts. In addition to fostering new expeditions, CenSeam also consolidated and synthesized existing data. OBIS was served by the open-access SeamountsOnline database (, which was continually expanded to include more physical and oceanographic data, and new data as they became available. This integrated seamount database was key to comprehensive synthesis and analysis of data as the program developed.

CenSeam's website was continually updated and CenSeam newsletters regularly circulated (and can be downloaded from the website; As well as serving the science community, the website targeted students and members of the public with ship-to-shore logs and features on some of the weird and wonderful creatures found on seamounts (

By the end of the Census in 2010, much remained unknowable given the large number of seamounts, their widespread distribution, and large variability in physical characteristics and habitat type. But under CenSeam much progress was made to improve our understanding of, and erect new paradigms about, seamount ecosystems.

Sometimes sample sorting can be fun. Examples of some of the critters found in the vicinity
of seamounts (from the top): Orange Roughy, Coral (Solenosmilia variabilis), Starfish.

Visit the Census of Marine Life on Seamounts website.