The Census of Marine Life (CoML) is an international research program aimed at assessing and explaining the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine organisms throughout the world's oceans. This ambitious goal is to be reached by stimulating well-coordinated, dedicated, regional research efforts based on initial projects that demonstrate efficient methods to census ocean habitats. Collectively, these projects will provide significant new information on the patterns and processes of marine life on a global scale.
Three questions encapsulate the CoML: What did live in the oceans? What does live in the oceans? What will live in the oceans? The Future of Marine Animal Populations (FMAP) adds to the critical modeling and analysis components of all three aspects of CoML - past, present, and future.
1) Past: Models are needed to interpret and design sub-sampling of historical data. New information about historical oceans (from sources such as HMAP) is a critical link between current field censuses and future predictions.
2) Present: It is important that modeling and analysis be integrated into research from the beginning so that the initial field sampling can be done in an optimal manner and so that design can be modified as work continues. In conjunction with this, synthetic models are needed to combine the data and to understand general patterns in the data collected.
3) Future: Models effective for synthesis also have potential for prediction. An understanding of the possible effects of changes in global climate or the fishing industry will help us to take effective management action.
FMAP grew out of a workshop held in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) in June 2002. Representatives of the all major elements of the Census of Marine Life participated in this initial event and continue to contribute as the vision of FMAP evolves into a working program. Funding from the Sloan Foundation was in place as of the spring of 2003.
Aside from predictions, FMAP will contribute to the Census of Marine Life in several key ways. Models are needed to design sampling programs and to synthesize data in order to understand what lived in the oceans in the past and what lives in the oceans today. These synthetic models can then be used to predict what will live in the oceans in the future.
Moreover, modeling can help define the limits of knowledge: what is known, what is unknown but knowable, and what is likely to remain unknowable.