Census Day


Putting the party back in "Deep Sea Research Party" by Daichi Fujita

The census results are in!  Now we know exactly how many seats in congress are needed to fairly represent Bikini Bottom.  OK, you got me.  It wasn’t that kind of census.  I’m talking about the Census of Marine Life, the first attempt to systematically quantify all denizens of the inky deep.  Three main questions guided the direction and scope of this global collaboration: what did live in the oceans, what does live in the oceans, and what will live in the oceans?  Diversity, distribution, and abundance of life have been painstakingly observed, recorded, and now triumphantly reported.

Species once thought to be rare are common and environments once considered extreme are actually quite normal.  (Think hydrothermal vent communities and sub sea ice critters.)  In the year 2000, approximately 230,000 marine species had been described, and now there are almost 250,000.

Just playing devil’s advocate here, but am I the only one who expected to see more of an uplift than 20,000 species?  I know the goals of scientific discovery shouldn’t be distilled to some crass numbers game, but can this really be categorized as an “unanticipated riot of species” as the summary report claims?

Maybe we shouldn’t pull the plug on the census quite yet.  Why stop after just ten years?

“After all its work, the Census still could not reliably estimate the total number of species, the kinds of life, known and unknown, in the ocean. It could logically extrapolate to at least a million kinds of marine life that earn the rank of species and to tens or even hundreds of millions of kinds of microbes.”

I say we keep on counting.

Tiny footnote:  If each species counted as a US citizen, then the ocean would only get one congressperson at best with 250,000 residents.  Singly represented Vermont is the least populous state according to the 2000 US Census with 495,304 residents.

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