What has lived in the ocean? What lives in the ocean? What will live in the ocean? The Census of Marine Life is a 10 year project that seeks to answer these questions and provide a publicly accessible platform for the data. The census is the first of its kind: an attempt by scientists of more than 80 nations to provide a comprehensive appraisal of the diversity, distribution and abundance of ocean life from the microbial to the massive, from the coastal shelf to the abyssal plains. World Ocean Census provides an introduction to the Census of Marine Life that many will find accessible and informative.
The project’s website, www.coml.org, offers more in-depth information for the studious or even the merely curious, and the content and framework of the book provides a static structure from which one can explore the kinetic form of the website.The preference for large, colorful photographs rather than charts or maps appeals to a casual, nonacademic audience; however, there is enough information contained within the text to provide many helpful starting places for web-based searches of a particular topic.
Like a textbook, the layout of World Ocean Census invites non-linear reading. It is divided into three parts, corresponding to the three questions above: what has lived, what lives and what will live in the ocean. Past, present and future provide an intuitive structure for understanding the vastness of what has been attempted, while the chapters and subchapters break down the process into short essays. Yet, while an easily digestible non-narrative book on a topic of overwhelming importance can be appreciated for its broad appeal and hopefully equally broad audience, it is disappointing to observe its brevity.
Given the size and scope of the census project, a more encyclopedic volume may have been in order. At the very least, more map illustrations would have provided geographic context for the photographic and textual content and make the title of World Ocean Census more fitting. As it is, this volume makes a very interesting and informative coffee table book and a less effective but still passable introductory textbook. It is a shallow treatment; those in search of deeper waters will be better served by a patient search of the census’ online offerings.