From the Edge of Darkness to the Black Abyss: New Zealand Marine Scientists contribute to Marine Life Census 17,500+ Species and Counting


Researchers at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) have contributed their findings to a major news release by the Census of Marine Life charting an astonishing abundance, diversity, and distribution of deep-sea species.‑sunlight

NIWA hosts the secretariat for the Census of Marine Life field programme CenSeam - a global census of marine life on seamounts (undersea mountains).

In June 2009, aboard RV Tangaroa, CenSeam researchers sailed to the Graveyard and Andes seamounts to investigate differences in biodiversity between north western and eastern regions of the Chatham Rise. Continuing the time series of observations in the north west Chatham Rise the researchers are examining how deep-sea communities may change over time.

Using the deep-towed imaging system (DTIS; designed and built at NIWA) 38 hours of video were recorded, and over 9000 still images taken.

Dense coral growths were observed on some of the seamounts, and some of the corals in turn supported a varied invertebrate community including sponges and seastars. Researchers were particularly excited to discover species of worms that actually live within the branches of bamboo corals and alter how the corals grow.

CenSeam findings contribute to Census of Marine Life. Started in the year 2000, the Census of Marine Life is an international science research program uniting thousands of researchers worldwide with the goal of assessing and explaining the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine life. It is supported by private sources and government agencies the world over, listed online at

The Census of Marine Life 2010: A Decade of Discovery, to be released in London in October 2010, will address three questions:

  • What lived in the ocean? (project HMAP)
  • What lives in the ocean? (represented by 14 field projects)
  • What will live in the ocean? (project FMAP)

NIWA scientists are closely involved with numerous Census of Marine Life field programs including:

  • CenSeam (a global census of marine life on seamounts; coordinated from NIWA),
  • ChEsS (biogeography of deep-water chemosynthetic ecosystems),
  • CoMARGE (Continenal Margin Ecosystems),
  • CeDAMar (Census of Diversity of Abyssal Marine Life),
  • MAR-ECO (Mid-Atlantic Ridge Ecosystem Project),
  • CAML (Census of Antarctic Marine Life),
  • ICoMM (International Census of Marine Microbes),
  • HMAP (History of Marine Animal Populations),
  • CMarZ (Census of Marine Zooplankton).

New Zealand is the focal point of the South-Western Pacific Regional OBIS Node (, hosted by the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in Wellington. OBIS is the Census of Marine Life data portal. It is a web-based provider of global geo-referenced information on marine species. South-Western Pacific Regional OBIS Node holds around 500,000 records of marine animals from the New Zealand region (and the Ross Sea). Subsets of these data are also provided to the OBIS central portal at Rutgers University, ( ) and from there to the Global Biodiversity Information facility (GBIF) ( in Copenhagen.

Additional information on CenSeam

CenSeam (a global census of marine life on seamounts) commenced in 2005 and is hosted by NIWA ( CenSeam is a network of more than 500 scientists, policy makers, and conservationists from around the world. CenSeam researchers have engaged in increasing our understanding of seamount ecosystems, and the potential impacts of human activities.



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Archived on 9 April 2019