“A toast,” says Meyer as he stands with a raised Hinano at the project’s wrap-up dinner. “The money’s run out, and we’ve therefore sequenced every species on the island. Congratulations, everyone! Mission accomplished.”
squat lobster (Galathea)
This sets off a round of laughter. Biocode hasn’t come anywhere close to bagging everything. “A complete failure!” says Paulay, again half joking. “We have to start over.” Meyer does some quick math: He figures Biocode will have logged around fifteen thousand species, triple the number they started with. They’ve more than doubled the numbers of known marine invertebrates, with about half the collected samples yet to be coded. And there have been happy surprises: “The numbers of species coming off the ARMS,” says Meyer, “has to be the biggest.” He’d expected around five hundred per ARMS; they each averaged fifteen hundred.
Still, Meyer estimates that the project has nailed down perhaps 50 to 75 percent of what’s out there. Paulay is similarly cautious—he figures there could be ten thousand species of marine invertebrates alone waiting to be discovered. The scientists, by their own admission, acknowledge that a fully comprehensive survey was an unlikely prospect to start with. So why do it?
“We’re marrying old-style expeditionary science with modern tools to capture Moorea’s genetic heritage and use it as a benchmark for diversity,” Meyer says. “And we’ve built this huge reference library that we can now use to answer questions we couldn’t have answered before about how ecosystems work. That’s the big innovation. But this is only the beginning. In science you stand on the shoulders of those who came before you. We’ve tried to build some tall shoulders here.”