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SCOR Working Group 118: New Technologies for Observing Marine Life

  2000, Canada
  2001, Argentina
  2002, Peru
General Information
Terms of Reference
Working Group Members
Front Page

Census of Marine Life logo
Funding provided by
the SLOAN Foundation's
Census of Marine Life
(CoML) initiative

2002 Working Group Meeting
(28-30 October 2002, Lima, Peru)

Opening Comments

Scroll down the page to view contents or use the following links to go directly to a topic:
Welcome & local arrangements || Objectives and agenda || CoML and WG 118

Welcome & local arrangements
David Farmer welcomed the group to Lima, introduced his co-chair Van Holliday and defined the group's purpose. He reminded us that WG 118 was primarily a discussion group and outlined the agenda. He then introduced Mariano Gutiérrez Torero, who welcomed the group to Peru on behalf of IMARPE and dealt with logistical arrangements for the meeting.

Objectives and agenda
Van Holliday presented the group's Terms of Reference for the benefit of new members and as a reminder of the tasks that remained to be done before the group reported in 2003. The full Terms of Reference are:

  • To identify and bring to the attention of the international community of fisheries scientists, marine biologists and others, the potential benefits of emerging technologies in the detection of marine life
  • To explore the relative merits of different technologies and identify those that deserve further research based on their potential for making significant contributions to the detection of marine life
  • To prepare a summary of the results of the Working Group's discussion so as to make it as widely available as possible

CoML and WG 118
Jesse Ausubel (Alfred P Sloan Foundation) gave a comprehensive presentation about the origins and aims of CoML (, which were to assess and explain the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine life and to make clear statements about what was known, unknown and unknowable. He outlined some of the main drivers for the initiative, which included the need for marine protected areas and sustainable fisheries and concerns about habitat loss, pollution and global climate change. Limited knowledge of the biology of the oceans, which was based mainly on catch statistics for about 200 commercially exploited species living on the continental shelves, provided the incentive for undertaking the task now. Ninety-five per cent of the oceans remained unexplored biologically, there had been few surveys of the 'whole water column', and no comprehensive ecosystem surveys. CoML's aim was to complete a suite of major oceanic research projects by 2010, concentrating on species diversity and habitat, and complementing, rather than competing with, existing initiatives such as IGBP, with its primary focus on biomass, carbon flux and global change. Technology had a vital role to play in realising CoML's goals. It was also the rationale for WG 118, whose role was to identify the potential benefits of emerging technologies and bring them to the attention of the international community of fisheries scientists, marine biologists and others concerned with the biological welfare of the oceans.

The Grand Challenge questions for CoML were:

  • what did live in the oceans
  • what does live in the oceans
  • what will live in the oceans
  • how to access and visualise data on living marine resources

The programmes dealing with these four questions were History of Marine Animal Populations (HMAP), New Field Projects, Future of Marine Animal Populations (FMAP) and Ocean Biogeographic Information Systems (OBIS), details of which can be found on CoML's web site, There were currently seven field projects (NaGISA, GoM, MAR-ECO, ChEss, POST, TOPP and CeDAMar) in the second programme, but the ultimate aim was 25-30 projects with worldwide coverage.

After summarising progress with the four programmes, Jesse Ausubel explained CoML's institutional structure and arrangements for developing partnerships with existing governmental (e.g. ICES, IOC, FAO) and non-governmental organisations (e.g. ICSU, IPPECA, OGPA). He also stressed the importance of education and outreach to all age groups throughout the life of the CoML programme. Apart from intrinsic merit, education would generate public clamour and bring pressure to bear on governments, which would inevitably continue to be the primary source of funding for marine research for the foreseeable future.

The presentation was followed by an extensive discussion during which Jesse Ausubel answered a variety of questions about the CoML programme, many of which focused on OBIS ( At the general level there was concern about the possible misuse of data and the potential conflict between premature or unwise use of marine resources on the one hand and the introduction of unnecessary regulations on the other. On balance, it was agreed that benefits probably outweighed risks and that data should be equally available to those wishing to exploit ocean resources and those wishing to conserve them. Detailed questions about OBIS concerned: incentives to provide data; compatibility with other marine databases; the need to structure the database to anticipate future questions; the need to recognise the particular needs of taxonomists; problems of data entry; the need for dialogue between designers and users; IP issues; and sources of funding.