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Ocean Census Engages UNEP-WCMC Data Expertise in Groundbreaking Ocean Discovery Initiative

Strategic alliance will blend unparalleled data expertise with ambitious scientific, exploration and conservation goals.

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In a significant move to reveal the mysteries of the deep, Ocean Census is joining forces with the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). This strategic alliance will merge UNEP-WCMC’s unparalleled data expertise with Ocean Census’s ambitious scientific, exploration and conservation goals.

Launched by The Nippon Foundation and Nekton in April 2023, Ocean Census has set an ambitious target to discover 100,000 new marine species in the next decade. Through its global partner network, the initiative will generate open-access data for scientists, governments, decision-makers and the general public, fostering a collective understanding of marine biodiversity and promoting its sustainable and equitable conservation.

Although it’s estimated that between 1-2 million species inhabit our ocean, little more than 10-25% have been documented, according to the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS). Ocean Census is collaborating with partners from various sectors to bridge this knowledge gap. By leveraging state-of-the-art technologies such as DNA sequencing, high-resolution imaging and machine learning, the initiative will conduct a series of global expeditions to discover ocean life and gather new insights on marine ecosystems and biodiversity. A growing network of international taxonomists will then classify and describe these discoveries.

Ocean Census has already undertaken two pioneering expeditions with partners in the Barents Sea and in Johnston Atoll, Pacific Ocean, and will soon embark on two major flagship expeditions, the first of dozens being planned. UNEP-WCMC, a global leader in biodiversity knowledge, will support the management of the huge amount of data that will be generated during these expeditions, assisting in the development of a cloud-based system to store this knowledge.

Doing so provides a wealth of information to scientists, policymakers, the private sector and civil society. This work will draw from and contribute to ongoing efforts to document life in the ocean, in order to inspire philanthropists, governments, policymakers, businesses, scientists, the media and civil society, and encourage much-needed action to preserve and protect this fragile habitat. 

“Our ocean is fundamental to life on Earth, yet the life it contains is being impacted and lost at an alarming rate. We need to act quickly to safeguard the wonders of the ocean for future generations, but we cannot protect what we don’t know exists. This project will significantly advance our understanding of ocean species such as sponges, which are relatively understudied despite the important role they play structuring habitats in shallow and deep waters.”

Rowana Walton, Programme Officer in UNEP-WCMC’s Nature Restored team

Ocean Census, with its diverse array of partners including scientific institutions, government entities, and media outlets, epitomises collaborative effort. The Nippon Foundation of Japan, a private, non-profit foundation for social innovation, and marine research charity Nekton, a UK-based marine science and conservation institute, are coordinating partner activities along with funding and managing the Ocean Census Science Network, species discovery, expeditions, and public and policy engagement activities. 

‘Collaborating hand-in-hand with UNEP-WCMC underscores our commitment to establishing an openly accessible and equitable data system at the heart of Ocean Census. Together, we’re not just exploring the ocean; we’re ensuring that every discovery, every data point, can help inform the protection and sustainable governance of ocean life for generations to come.”  

Oliver Steeds, OBE, Director of Ocean Census

Ocean Census is actively partnering with a range of organisations to grow an alliance committed to accelerating the discovery of ocean life. Those interested in getting involved should get in touch.

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