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Season’s greetings from all of us at Ocean Census

Science Director Alex Rogers and Marcos González Porto of the Oceanographic Centre of Canary Islands mark the achievements of the past year.

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One thing is for certain – if we don’t hold to the 1.5°C target, further and irreversible damage will be done to the ocean. Given this, Ocean Census takes on a whole new dimension.

As I write, we have wrapped up our expedition in Macaronesia, a biogeographic region that has long been associated with high biodiversity and regional endemism. I’m excited to report that we have made unexpected discoveries that are new to science in waters ranging from shallow-subtidal to as deep as 250 metres. This includes species of corals, molluscs, crustaceans, flatworms, nematodes and echinoderms. We will be supporting further work to confirm these findings.

If anything, biodiversity has been underestimated around these islands. Unsurprisingly, many of these animals are small. The fractal nature of biodiversity means that the closer we look, the more species we find. If we were to extend our investigation deeper and further offshore, I’m sure we would discover even more.

During this expedition I have had the great pleasure of completing my 50th submersible dive in Pisces VI. It was a memorable dive for the number of stingrays we observed (“chucho” in thelocal Canarian), as well as a beautiful skate. For me, submersibles or human occupied vehicles (HOVs) have a special place in ocean exploration – they are able to give a unique view of the submarine seascape, can operate in extreme underwater terrain where a tethered platform would be difficult to deploy (e.g. overhanging cliffs or terrain with many pinnacles), and they place humans in close contact with the organisms and environment in which they are working. The last is so important, because this is what enables us to communicate the human experience, feeling and inspiration that comes from working in the majestic but mysterious deep sea. Huge thanks to Scott Waters and the team at Pisces VI for such a fantastic expedition experience.

Whilst the project was underway in Tenerife, the COP28 Climate Change Conference took place in Dubai — some of our team sent their message to leaders. This was a critical conference as it included a global stock-take of action to mitigate climate disruption. This year, we witnessed the world’s hottest day and hottest month, a record low in Antarctic sea ice, and in Tenerife as elsewhere, terrible wildfires. Everywhere I go, people remark on unusual or erratic weather patterns. In Tenerife, we have seen warm water species that have recently colonised the Canary Islands. This is symptomatic of a global pattern of species migration towards the poles, and catastrophic damage to some marine ecosystems including coral reefs and seagrass beds.

One thing is for certain – if we don’t hold to the 1.5°C target, further and irreversible damage will be done to the ocean, including the destruction of whole ecosystems and the loss of species through extinction. Given this, Ocean Census takes on a whole new dimension, documenting species and recording their genetic information before they further decline or are even lost. The implications for humankind are severe, as these species and ecosystems form part of the Earth’s life support system, and provide us with a range of services, from the provision of food and nutrient cycling to identification of novel treatments for diseases such as cancer.

Let us hope that COP28 gives the progress we need on halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and COP20, which will be held in another oil-rich state, Azerbaijan, provides the mechanisms we need to achieve this essential goal.

Finally, I would like to wish all members of our science community my very best wishes at the end of what has been an incredibly busy year. It’s important that we celebrate everything we have achieved so far and I very much look forward to working with you further in 2024.

Professor Alex Rogers, Science Director, Ocean Census

“As a Partner of the Ocean Census Macaronesia Expedition, the Canary Islands Oceanographic Center (CSIC-IEO) has been able to contribute not only its modern and comfortable facilities on the island as a second headquarters for the scientific work that has been carried out with collected samples, supplied microscopy instruments and sampling equipment, but has contributed the experience of its staff, who have worked for decades deepening the study of the biodiversity of this Macaronesian region, as well as in other places in the world including the Atlantic, Indian, Africa and Antarctica.

The studies carried out during this expedition, and the experience of this Institution, Centro Oceanográfico de Canarias, will feed each other to advance our knowledge of one of the most interesting areas on our planet, and will boost the study of groups already advanced by CSIC-IEO, such as Porifera or Cnidaria and others less studied with much still to be discovered in terms of their biodiversity, including Flatworms, small crustaceans and Polychaetes.”

Marcos González Porto, Oceanographic Centre of Canary Islands

We’re thankful for the passion and commitment of scientists around the world who have joined our mission to accelerate work to deepen our understanding of life in our ocean. If you know someone who may be interested in getting involved, share a link to register for the Ocean Census Science Network.


Photos: The Finnish Scientific Dive Academy give us some Christmas cheer and a scientist looks at a specimen during the recent Macaronesia Tenerife Submersible and Diver Expedition.



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