Toward a marine census of the Gulf of Maine
and Georges Bank ecosystem

K. G. Foote

The Census of Marine Life is a research initiative of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, whose nominal goal is a global census of marine life, aiming both at description and understanding of the distribution and abundance of marine animals, as taxonomically differentiated. Apropos of the scope and complexity of such an ambitious endeavor, a call is made for a pilot marine census of a single ecosystem, that of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, for the nominal two-year period 1 January 2002 - 31 December 2003. The pilot census would also include exploratory transects through the Slope Water to the north wall of the Gulf Stream. Six major challenges are envisioned: (1) harnessing state-of-the-art techniques and platforms for a core program of synchronous observation and sampling of fish, size range 5-100 cm, macrozooplankton, 2-20 cm, and mesozooplankton, 0.2-20 mm, in the context of their environment; (2) establishing the feasibility of synchronous observation or sampling of other marine organisms, including sea mammals, marine birds, benthos, and microscopic pelagic animals; (3) collecting and combining the various data to define the ecosystem; (4) surveying deep-water organisms in Slope Water; (5) quantifying biodiversity; and (6) getting the numbers right. To begin to address these challenges, and to establish a model for planning and conducting pilot censuses, the Sloan Foundation has funded the planning project. Elements of this are: (1) identifying the precise interests of the research community and securing commitments to the pilot census; (2) determining requirements on observation and sampling systems; (3) promoting development and refinement of state-of-the-art instrumentation to bring this to the operational level; (4) formulating a survey strategy and operational plans; (5) outlining the suite of analyses required for reducing the census data; and (6) estimating costs and level of effort. These elements are elaborated in a work program, and a schedule is available from the author. It is appreciated that the pilot census has a particular intrinsic value because of the huge productivity of the region and the severely depleted states of the cod and haddock stocks.