IOC and Marine Biodiversity

Within the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), work on marine biota and marine biodiversity includes collaborative assessments of such communities and groups as coral reefs, benthic fauna and harmful marine algae.

Since the mid-1980s, concerns about the decline in coral reefs have increased and reflected in such initiatives as the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, cosponsored by UNEP, the World Bank, IUCN and the IOC. Among the outputs of the network is the biennial 'Status of Coral Reefs of the World, the 2004 version of which documents how human activities continue to be the primary cause of the severe degradation of coral reefs worldwide.

And January 2006 saw the publication of 'Status of Coral Reefs in Tsunami Affected Countries: 2005'. With contributions from some 60 authors, this 154-page volume includes chapters on the status of coral reefs in individual countries affected by the 26 December 2004 earthquake and subsequent tsunamis, including Maldives and Seychelles.

A related initiative is the IOC/World Bank Study Group on Coral Bleaching and Local Ecological Responses, set-up in 2000 with the aim of integrating, synthesizing and developing global research on coral bleaching.

The IOC study group on Benthic Indicators is charged with developing health indicators of coastal benthic communities. Tasks include combining datasets on coastal benthos and environmental conditions from different coastal regions into a global database. Among the group’s publications is that on 'Indicators of Stress in the Marine Benthos', published in February 2005 as IOC Workshop Report No 195.

IOC’s programme on Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) fosters cooperative scientific research on these blooms, in order to understand their causes, predict their occurrences, mitigate their effects and promote their effective management. Recent advances in instrumentation, communications and modelling have led to the design of prototype real-time observing systems, reflected in the implementation plan for work on the global ecology and oceanography of HABs.

Among other IOC projects is that on 'Biodiversity and distribution of megafaunal assemblages in the abyssal nodule province of the eastern equatorial Pacific: management of the impacts of deep seabed mining'. Baseline studies include a qualitative and qualitative analysis of faunal assemblages and a compilation of the morphological identification of the taxa. Assessments are also being made of taxonomic richness, faunal composition, relative abundance of megafauna and functional and trophic groups within particularly well-explored areas. The study is based on some 200,000 underwater photos and 55 hours of bottom-filming effected mostly by Institut Francais de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER) during the last decade or so. An overview of project findings is scheduled for publication in the IOC Technical Notes series.

The IOC is also cooperating with various partners in a European project on Hotspot Ecosystem Research on the Margins of European Seas (HERMES). Launched in April 2005, the project is designed to gain new insights into the biodiversity, structure, function and dynamics of ecosystems along Europe’s deep-ocean margins. The specific role of IOC, and its Training-Through-Research (TTR) programme, is to provide students and young researchers with adequate shipboard training in collecting and analysing bottom samples.

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