The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) will lead a census of Antarctic marine life as a major contribution to the International Polar Year in the summer of 2007–08, thanks to a generous grant from the Alfred P Sloan Foundation. Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, has welcomed the grant from the New York-based Sloan Foundation, which today announced it would contribute a grant of US$525,000 ($A695,000) for the AAD to lead the historic census of the Southern Ocean’s marine life.

Senator Campbell said the project was a mammoth task involving the major nations in Antarctic research.

“The Census of Antarctic Marine Life is an ambitious project, involving 20–30 nations, up to 15 research ships and between 100 and 200 research scientists worldwide. The generous grant from the Sloan Foundation enables scientific coordination and planning activities to occur, as well as facilitate coordinated sample storage and data management,” Senator Campbell said.

“The Southern Ocean is a vast expanse of water, greater than any other on earth. Conducting a census of what lives within it, and under its ice shelves, is an important undertaking. The census is expected to reveal many species new to science that will teach us much about how the Southern Ocean ecosystem is structured.

“The census will give a snapshot in time of the abundance of whales, seals, penguins and many other forms of wildlife.

“Since top predators are so dependent on the myriad of small creatures in the ocean the census will provide us with additional knowledge about ecosystem linkages.

“Australia has a long and continuing record of research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, contributing to an ever expanding base of global knowledge on Antarctic ecosystems.

“A concerted research effort like this is a real shot in the arm for our knowledge of the Southern Ocean as to what can be achieved through intensive international cooperation,” he said.

The Alfred P Sloan Foundation is currently funding scientific coordination activities for a ten-year Census of Marine Life, which will produce a report in 2010 on the health of Earth’s oceans. The Census of Antarctic Marine Life is one of 14 field projects being supported by the foundation.

The Alfred P Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic, nonprofit institution established in 1934 by Alfred P. Sloan Jr, the then President and CEO of the General Motors Corporation. Sloan was later elected Chairman of the Board of General Motors and on his retirement was made honorary chairman, a title he retained until his death in 1966. For many years he devoted a large share of his time and energy to philanthropic activities, both as a private donor to many causes and organizations and through the Alfred P Sloan Foundation.