Accelerating ocean species discovery and laying the foundations for the future of marine biodiversity research and monitoring


Alex David Rogers, Research Expedition Vessel (REV) Ocean
Hannah Appiah-Madson, Northeastern University
Jeff A. Ardron, Commonwealth Secretariat
Nicholas J. Bax, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere
Punyasloke Bhadury, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata
Angelika Brandt, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Pier Luigi Buttigieg, GEOMAR - Helmholtz-Zentrum für Ozeanforschung Kiel
Olivier De Clerck, Universiteit Gent
Claudia Delgado, Universiteit Gent
Daniel L. Distel, Northeastern University
Adrian Glover, The Natural History Museum, London
Judith Gobin, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus
Maila Guilhon, Universidade de São Paulo
Shannon Hampton, Research Institute for Sustainability – Helmholtz Centre Potsdam (RIFS)
Harriet Harden-Davies, Faculty of Business and Law
Paul Hebert, University of Guelph
Lisa Hynes, Nekton Foundation
Miranda Lowe, The Natural History Museum, London
Sandy MacIntyre, Nekton Foundation
Hawis Madduppa, IPB University
Ana Carolina de Azevedo Mazzuco, Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo
Anna McCallum, Marine Invertebrates
Chris McOwen, United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre
Tim Wilhelm Nattkemper, Universität Bielefeld
Mika Odido, Regional Office for Eastern Africa
Tim O’Hara, Marine Invertebrates
Karen Osborn, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Angelique Pouponneau, Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust
Pieter Provoost, IOC Project Office for International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE)

Publication Name

Frontiers in Marine Science


Ocean Census is a new Large-Scale Strategic Science Mission aimed at accelerating the discovery and description of marine species. This mission addresses the knowledge gap of the diversity and distribution of marine life whereby of an estimated 1 million to 2 million species of marine life between 75% to 90% remain undescribed to date. Without improved knowledge of marine biodiversity, tackling the decline and eventual extinction of many marine species will not be possible. The marine biota has evolved over 4 billion years and includes many branches of the tree of life that do not exist on land or in freshwater. Understanding what is in the ocean and where it lives is fundamental science, which is required to understand how the ocean works, the direct and indirect benefits it provides to society and how human impacts can be reduced and managed to ensure marine ecosystems remain healthy. We describe a strategy to accelerate the rate of ocean species discovery by: 1) employing consistent standards for digitisation of species data to broaden access to biodiversity knowledge and enabling cybertaxonomy; 2) establishing new working practices and adopting advanced technologies to accelerate taxonomy; 3) building the capacity of stakeholders to undertake taxonomic and biodiversity research and capacity development, especially targeted at low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) so they can better assess and manage life in their waters and contribute to global biodiversity knowledge; and 4) increasing observational coverage on dedicated expeditions. Ocean Census, is conceived as a global open network of scientists anchored by Biodiversity Centres in developed countries and LMICs. Through a collaborative approach, including co-production of science with LMICs, and by working with funding partners, Ocean Census will focus and grow current efforts to discover ocean life globally, and permanently transform our ability to document, describe and safeguard marine species.

Open Access Status

This publication may be available as open access



Article Number


Funding Sponsor

Nippon Foundation



Link to publisher version (DOI)