The Ocean Census, a global initiative aimed at discovering and recording marine life hidden in the world’s oceans, seeks to identify 100,000 unknown species in the next decade using new technologies such as high-resolution underwater imaging, machine learning, and DNA sequencing from seawater to accelerate the speed and scale of discovery of new life forms. The project is led by Nekton, a UK-based marine science and conservation institute, and funded by the Nippon Foundation, a non-profit foundation based in Japan. The innovations will help scientists better understand and protect the deep-sea ecosystem. According to the census, there are huge gaps in our knowledge of the ocean’s depths. Of the 2.2 million species believed to exist in the Earth’s oceans, only 240,000 have been described by scientists. The project builds on past initiatives such as the Census of Marine Life, which concluded in 2010 and identified 6,000 potential new ocean species.

New technology, such as underwater laser scanning, allows scientists to study gelatinous creatures such as jellyfish in their natural habitat. It typically takes scientists at least a year to definitively describe a species post-discovery, but new types of technology are making it much easier for sea creatures to be studied in their natural habitat. The project will also make use of new and accessible techniques to sample waterborne DNA to detect and track species. All living organisms, including humans, disperse genetic material into the environment, and the project aims to utilize this genetic material to identify and track new species.