19 August 2015

In retrospect: sharing the SeaLifeBase story

The ocean is teeming with life that one cannot possibly fathom all its deepest secrets. But if substantial information is crunched into its juicy bits and made cohesive, it is certain to be useful in marine studies and conservation. 

The emergence of a global database SeaLifeBase in 2005 is one of the answers to making sure that all the remaining sea creatures other than fishes can share the limelight. The noble proponents of this project are Dr. Daniel Pauly (Principal Investigator) and Maria Lourdes D. Palomares (Project Coordinator); it is a joint initiative of the Sea Around Us (Fisheries Centre, UBC, Vancouver, Canada) and the FishBase Information and Research Group, Inc. (FIN). Also, it is endorsed and monitored by the FishBase Consortium. In essence, it emulates the highly-commended framework of FishBase, aiming to provide key information on scientific and common names, distribution, ecology and life history data for all multi-celled marine organisms of the world’s oceans. Its taxonomic backbone is the Catalogue of Life which is refined by expert-reviewed taxonomic data of the World Register of Marine Species.

The SeaLifeBase (SLB) encoding team is based in the Philippines. Data entry began in 2005 with only three research assistants Christine Dar-Sicada, Marianne Pan-Saniano, and Patricia Marjorie Sorongon-Yap, under the guidance of Maria Lourdes Palomares. The AquaSpecies Workshop was a good starting point for SLB as it formed collaborations with marine experts around the globe. Determined to make the database a reality, the SLB team completed more than 11,500 species, specifically marine mammals, marine reptiles, marine worms and other small groups.

The wait was over as SeaLifeBase finally became a searchable online information system in 2008. It secured the domain www.sealifebase.org, reaching 13,000 hits per month during the first six months.  Widening its presence in the marine scientific community was made possible  as it was introduced in the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity in Spain. 

In 2010, SeaLifeBase ventured into documenting the marine biodiversity of South China Sea, the large marine ecosystem that contains the Coral Triangle. Then on, it successfully provided mandatory information to almost 50,000 species. Resolute to achieve a firm footing, SLB shifted its target goal into working one marine ecosystem at a time, with its long-term goal of covering all 66 large marine ecosystems.

The decision to accomplish one ecosystem at a time was a heyday for SeaLifeBase, and most importantly to our precious marine folks. SLB became a vital advocate in putting a stop to drilling in Belize barrier reef when the team was commissioned in 2011 to provide key data on its marine biodiversity. Work progressed and other island ecosystems considered as large marine protected areas were covered, including Southern Oceans, Kermadec Islands, Pitcairn Islands and the Mediterranean Sea. Collaborators, coming from 46 countries, doubled to 200.

In three years SeaLifeBase covereded eight island ecosystems: Kerguelen, Crozet, Terre Adélie, Kermadec, Easter, Pitcairn, and Belize. Labor in research and much-appreciated collaboration resulted to 94,326 species pumped up with ecological and biological information. In 2012, it reached a monthly average of 2,772,669 hits with 8,792 unique visitors.

Sailing forward on island ecosystem projects from 2013 to the present, more commissioned work on  the Sailish, Baltic, and North Seas, some major Mediterranean Islands, the Western Indian Ocean, French Polynesia, Palau and New Caledonia were completed. For the entire 2014, SLB garnered 12,238,587 hits with 129,775 unique users. 

Today, SLB  hosts information for all non-fish marine vertebrates, tunicates, cephalopods and other small groups of mollusks and jellyfishes. Aside from nomenclature and distribution data, SLB actively provides information on population dynamics, trophic ecology, and abundance.

As of August 2015, SeaLifeBase contains over 71,500 species (57,090 species with ecology information, 48,767 species for 170 marine ecosystems, 56,578 species with reproduction information, 1,918 species with morphological data) described by 34,587 common names, with 15,354 food item records, 515 diet records, 9,090 abundance records, 4,561 predator records, 3,040 growth records, 1,604 introduction records and 12,342 pictures gathered from 24,621 references. Moreover, SLB has garnered 260 collaborators worldwide.

Embracing the gift of sharing free and relevant information its proponents have perpetuated, SeaLifeBase with its seven members alongside their project coordinator, will carry on and pursue its goal – forming meaningful collaborations, tapping what is available, and providing relevant and far-reaching information to attain its long-term goal of completing all large marine ecosystems. 

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