The Census of Marine Life[1] has now documented 7,500 species from the Antarctic and 5,500 species from the Arctic. A majority of the species encountered by the census was previously known by science, but at least a few hundred species are believed to be entirely new discoveries. Researchers did for instance encounter an impressive amount of sea spiders species where the adult spider can grow as big as a human hand.

These new findings may force us to change the way we think about the Polar Regions. “The textbooks have said there is less diversity at the poles than the tropics but we found astonishing richness of marine life in the Antarctic and Arctic oceans,” says Dr. Victoria Wadley[2], a researcher from the Australian Antarctic Division who took part in the Antarctic survey. “We are rewriting the textbooks.

Dr. Gilly Llewellyn[3], who did not take part in the survey but is the leader of the oceans program for the environmental group WWF-Australia, agrees. “We probably know more about deep space than we do about the deep polar oceans in our own backyard. This critical research is helping reveal the amazing biodiversity of the polar regions.”

The survey was carried out by over 500 researchers from 25 different countries as a part of the International Polar Year which ran in 2007-2008. Thanks to newly developed top-notch technology it is now possible to carry out more efficient exploration of these harsh environments than ever before, and the researchers did for instance examine the Arctic basin down to a depth of 3,000 metres where they encountered tiny, shrimp-like crustaceans. The survey also led to the number of known comb jellies (ctenophores) species to double from five to ten.


Census of Marine Life is an international effort to catalogue all life in the oceans. It is supported by governments, the United Nations, and private conservation organisations.

[2] Victoria Wadley, Ph.D.
CAML Antarctic Ocean

Project Manager
Australian Antarctic Division Channel Highway
KINGSTON, Tasmania, Australia

[3] Ghislaine “Gilly” Llewellyn, Ph.D.