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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

2 October 2003

Australian Science Taps Into Global Marine Census

Australian scientists have officially joined a $1 billion, 10-year global effort to assess the status of marine life worldwide, Minister for the Environment and Heritage Dr David Kemp announced today.

Convened by the Australian Government's National Oceans Office, the first meeting of the Australian committee for the Census of Marine Life will be held in Canberra today. The Australian committee brings together representatives from state and Australian Government agencies, universities, museums, the CSIRO and other research organisations.

The Census was conceived by a United States-based consortium with an interest in oceanographic research and education. It is now coordinated by the Census's International Steering Committee, housed in United States Government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Hundreds of people around the world, at 100 institutions in 20 countries including Australia, are working on the Ocean Biogeographical Information System (OBIS) that will support the Census.

"The goal of the Census is to assess and explain the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine life in the world's oceans, and to make this information available to all,'' said Dr Kemp.

"This project will enable scientists to compare what once lived in the oceans with what lives there now, and to predict what will live there in the future.

"Our oceans are a global commons and if we are to stop the unsustainable use of marine resources we must be part of an effective global response. It is for this reason that Australia committed along with more than 185 other United Nations member states at the World Summit on Sustainable Development last year to put the world's oceans on a sustainable basis by the year 2015. Through more than 17 partnerships with other nations, corporations, and non-government organisations, the Australian Government is leading the world in this effort.

"Australia's involvement to the Census will complement our other international commitments to sustainable development. Much of the world's oceans remain a mystery and for us to fully appreciate their scale and scope, we must continue to improve our knowledge base.

"Australia is uniquely placed to contribute to the Census. We have strong credentials in marine science and information management, and we occupy a vast ocean territory with a high level of unique species amid the relatively unexplored Southern Hemisphere oceans.''

The Census is supported by the Sloan Foundation, a US-based private philanthropic fund that fosters scientific programs. The Foundation has provided funding for the establishment of Australia's national steering committee. In return, Australia would contribute information on the ocean habitats for which it had compiled geological and biological inventories, such as areas of the Torres Strait, the Great Barrier Reef, the North West Shelf and south-east continental shelf.

The Australian steering committee for the Census would oversee Australia's contribution to global programs and seek to promote local projects and funding. One of committee's first tasks would be to develop a five-year strategic plan.

More information about the census can be found at

Commonwealth of Australia