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Canadian marine biodiversity scientists forging strategy for sustainable ocean use

Working from a foundation of marine biodiversity research laid by the recently completed Census of Marine Life, Canadian marine science leaders from academia, government, and ocean-focused funding agencies are meeting in Ottawa January 10-11, 2011 to explore ways to capitalize on Canada's emergence as a global leader in marine biodiversity research and to take advantage of Canada's world-class marine science infrastructure to plan for sustainable ocean use. An estimated 40 marine biodiversity leaders from universities and government are expected to attend the two-day meeting to address changing marine biodiversity in Canada's three oceans.

The meeting is organized by the Census of Marine Life, completed in 2010, which brought together 2,700 scientists from more than 80 nations to establish a baseline of the diversity, distribution, and abundance of life in the global ocean against which future change can be measured. The first Census found that life in the ocean is richer, more connected, and more impacted by human activities than expected.

"Canada was well represented in the first Census of Marine and our scientists held many leadership positions during its ten years of exploration and discovery," says Dr. Paul Snelgrove, professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland's Ocean Sciences Centre and Biology Department, Director of the NSERC Canadian Healthy Oceans Network, and author of Discoveries of the Census of Marine Life: Making Ocean Life Count, (Cambridge University Press, 2010), the authoritative book of Census results. "This experience puts Canada in the enviable position of having many of the world's leading experts in marine biodiversity, who are coming together to figure out how we might coordinate our research programs and move forward together using the plethora of knowledge and expertise learned from the first Census as a foundation for better ocean usage."

Canada is home to two major Census of Marine Life legacy programs. The NSERC Canadian Healthy Oceans Network (CHONe) is a research network of Canadian university researchers and government scientists formed to develop research tools that will aid decision-making for sustainable ocean usage. CHONe is compiling a marine biodiversity database for Canada's three oceans that will serve as a baseline and also developing scientific guidelines for conservation-based decisions in ocean management and policy. The Ocean Tracking Network (OTN) is a global network that tracks thousands of tagged marine animalsfrom fish to birds to polar bears using acoustic telemetry technology on the ocean floor to provide data about their movements, while building a record of climate change.

In addition, Snelgrove highlighted other important and uniquely Canadian initiatives and infrastructure that can support Canadian marine biodiversity research, including:

NEPTUNE (NorthEast Pacific Time-Series Underwater Networked Experiments) the world's largest cabled seafloor observatory located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, which gathers live data from depths ranging from 17 to 2,660 metres and makes them available via the Internet, allowing scientists to study episodic events and long-term changes. The CBC recently cited NEPTUNE as the fourth top science story in Canada for 2010.

VENUS (Victoria Experimental Network Under the Sea) a cabled undersea laboratory for ocean researchers and explorers that delivers real time information from seafloor instruments via fibre optic cables to the University of Victoria, BC.

ROPOS (Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Sciences) a remotely operated underwater vehicle capable of operating to depths of 5,000 metres, provides scientists a window into the deep without having to journey there.

"Canada has the world's longest coast from the Atlantic, to the Arctic to the Pacific ocean," adds Philippe Archambault, Research Professor at the Universit du Qubec, Rimouski and co-chair of the Census' Canadian National Committee, "so there are many challenges ahead, but we are embarking on this decade with a solid foundation to achieve sustainable ocean resources in the years ahead."

Over the two-day meeting, Canadian marine biodiversity scientists will join in discussions with representatives of federal agencies and ocean-focused government departments including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Environment Canada, Parks Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs, and representatives of Canadian universities with ocean research agendas to chart a working plan for the future.

As part of the program, Dr. Verena Tunnicliffe will present the 2010 Canada Ocean Lecture, "Exploring the Ocean Frontiers - We Have More to Learn," on Monday evening. The meeting is sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a major funder of the Census of Marine Life,, through a grant to Memorial University of Newfoundland.


Contact: Darlene Trew Crist
Census of Marine Life

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