Long-running geographically extensive marine ecological survey, providing the 'big picture' on global ocean change

Driven by almost a century of sustained plankton observations, scientific excellence and innovation, the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) Survey is a globally recognised leader on the impacts of environmental change on the health of our oceans.

As a large-scale global survey, it provides the scientific and policy communities with a basin-wide and long-term measure of the ecological health of marine plankton. Established in 1931, the CPR Survey is the longest running, most geographically extensive marine ecological survey in the world. Home to a considerable database of marine plankton and associated metadata that is used by researchers and policy makers to examine strategically important science pillars such as climate change, human health, fisheries, biodiversity, pathogens, invasive species, ocean acidification and natural capital.

Why monitor plankton?

Our focus on the ocean plankton is important. Plankton sustains life on this planet by producing almost half the oxygen we breathe; it is the planet’s second lung.

Plankton are very sensitive to changes in their environment (e.g. temperature and pH) and due to their rapid turnover, they are excellent indicators of change in the marine environment. By monitoring plankton communities across basin scales and over many decades, the CPR Survey provides us with the ability to recognise changes in our marine environment over and above natural variations and trends.

Anthropogenic and global climate pressures on the marine environment are set to increase over the coming decades. Tools such as the CPR Survey help progress our understanding of changes occurring in the marine environment, and are essential to inform appropriate and effective management decisions at local, national and international levels.

Celebrating 60 years of CPR data

2018 is a milestone year for the CPR Survey, marking 60 years of continuous monitoring in the North Atlantic. Although the Survey has been operating since 1931, standardised methods of sample collection and analysis were brought in to start in 1958, and have remained unchanged since then, resulting in a globally important and unique source of information on the health of the ocean.

In the marine environment, long-term datasets are rare, and those that do occur typically collect samples in coastal environments. In contrast, the CPR Survey operates in the open ocean, towing transects every month over thousands of nautical miles. By using the same methods over 6 decades, CPR data have helped progress our understanding of the marine environment, providing a form of “yard-stick” against which new measurements can be compared. Such baseline information is essential in identifying if, when and where changes have occurred, and help support the development of appropriate management of our seas.

Throughout 2018 we will be using the hashtag #60yearsofdata to highlight both the achievements of the CPR Survey during this time, and the work done on a day to day basis by the CPR team that goes in to running and maintaining this unique monitoring programme. You can follow these posts throughout the year on our official Twitter page.

Providing the 'big picture' on global ocean change from genes to ecosystems

Our science focus

The CPR Survey is of global importance in progressing understanding of natural variability and human-induced changes in our oceans. It is used by scientists, policy makers and environmental managers across the world. Over the last eight decades the purpose of the Survey has co-evolved with changing environmental policy, from purely monitoring plankton distributions to addressing and providing indicators for major marine management issues, ranging from fisheries, harmful algal blooms, biodiversity, pollution, eutrophication, ocean acidification and climate warming.

Many scientific firsts and insights have developed from examining and interrogating the CPR Survey's extensive time-series. The Survey has provided primary evidence of changes in global ocean biology for the last two IPCC reports and the UN’s first World Ocean Assessment. The results have included the first documented studies of large-scale ecological regime shifts, biogeographic, phenological and trans-arctic migrations in the marine environment in response to climate change.

Science themes

The CPR Survey's science includes both operational and innovative, blue skies research, directed along four broad science themes:


Climate change is one of the greatest societal changes of the 21st Century. The continued collection and interpretation of CPR data provides unique insights into how the marine environment is responding and the potential for future change.


Biodiversity is fundamental for the functioning of the marine ecosystem. The taxonomic richness of the CPR data is a major resource enabling marine researchers to gain insights into the form and function of the ecosystem and how it is changing.


Marine bio-resources are increasingly used to support human population growth. The blue-economy is underpinned by bio-resources.  CPR Survey science provides valuable insights for effective management strategies.


The health of people and marine sources of food can be compromised by some marine organisms. Harmful algae and bacterial infections appear to be on the increase.  New molecular tools and techniques will allow the CPR Survey to contribute to this growth area.

Each theme is highly relevant to emerging scientific questions, marine policy requirements and the main societal concerns on the marine environment, such as:

  • Are marine habitats changing?
  • Is species diversity changing?
  • Are food webs changing?
  • Are human pressures changing?


The CPR Survey currently covers 8,000 nautical miles each month, presenting significant opportunities to maximise the monitoring potential of the pelagic environment. The development of new technologies and tools will enable the entire plankton community, from viruses to jellyfish, to be examined using molecular and optical technologies, in addition to instrumented data. Increasing the geographical range and scope of the Survey, particularly into sentinel ecoregions that are hotspots for environmental change, such as the Arctic, are essential in providing a truly global picture of our oceans.

The CPR Survey International Sample Archive

Collecting today for tomorrow's technology

We hold one of the oldest, most large scale sample archives in the world. Samples collected by the CPR Survey since 1958 are stored and carefully curated, providing a bank of samples available for future analysis using new and innovative methodologies.

During routine plankton analysis, every other sample on a tow is processed by our team of specialist analysts, before being archived. The remaining 50% of the tow is not analysed but archived immediately, resulting in a library of samples available for further/alternative analysis.

The archive is home to all our samples from routine North Atlantic, South Atlantic and North Pacific tows, in addition to one-off cruises, e.g. circumnavigation of the Arctic collected in 2012. Please contact us if you are interested in accessing our International Sample Archive, or would like more information on what is available.

Published Papers

Publications produced by CPR Survey scientists and collaborating researchers using CPR Survey data.  

CPR Survey Staff in bold. *Associate Researchers/ Research Fellows/ PhD Students 


Peer-reviewed Publications

*Bedford, J., D.G. Johns, S. Greenstreet, and A. McQuatters-Gollop. "Plankton as Prevailing Conditions: A Surveillance Role for Plankton Indicators within the Marine Strategy Framework Directive." Marine Policy 89: 109-15.

*Beaugrand, G., and R.R. Kirby. "How Do Marine Pelagic Species Respond to Climate Change? Theories and Observations." Annual Review of Marine Science 10, no. 1 (2018): 169-97.

Bonitz, F.G.W., C. Andersson, T. Trofimova, and H. Hátún. "Links between Phytoplankton Dynamics and Shell Growth of Arctica Islandica on the Faroe Shelf." Journal of Marine Systems 179: 72-87.

Hartman, S.E., M.P. Humphreys, C. Kivimäe, E.M.S. Woodward, V. Kitidis, T. McGrath, D.J. Hydes, N. Greenwood, T. Hull, C. Ostle, D.J. Pearce, D. Sivyer, B.M. Stewart, P. Walsham, S.C. Painter, E. McGovern, C. Harris, A. Griffiths, A. Smilenova, J. Clarke, C. Davis, R. Sanders, and P. Nightingale. "Seasonality and Spatial Heterogeneity of the Surface Ocean Carbonate System in the Northwest European Continental Shelf." Progress in Oceanography (2018).


Peer-reviewed Publications 

Brown, T., D. D. Kelly, S. Vercauteren, W. H. Wilson and A. Werner (2017). "How Biobanks Are Assessing and Measuring Their Financial Sustainability." Biopreservation and Biobanking 15(1): 65-71.

Capuzzo, E., C. P. Lynam, J. Barry, D. Stephens, R. M. Forster, N. Greenwood, A. McQuatters-Gollop, T. Silva, S. M. van Leeuwen and G. H. Engelhard (2017). "A decline in primary production in the North Sea over 25 years, associated with reductions in zooplankton abundance and fish stock recruitment." Global Change Biology: 1-13.

Chivers, W. J., A. W. Walne and G. C. Hays (2017). "Mismatch between marine plankton range movements and the velocity of climate change." Nature Communications 8(14434).

Clare, D. S., M. Spencer, L. A. Robinson and C. L. Frid (2017). "Explaining ecological shifts: the roles of temperature and primary production in the long‐term dynamics of benthic faunal composition." Oikos 126(8): 1123-1133.

Dees, P., E. Bresnan, A. C. Dale, M. EdwardsD. G. Johns, B. Mouat, C. Whyte and K. Davidson (2017). "Harmful algal blooms in the Eastern North Atlantic Ocean." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(46): E9763-E9764.

Dencker, T. S., L. Pecuchet, E. Beukhof, K. Richardson, M. R. Payne and M. Lindegren (2017). "Temporal and spatial differences between taxonomic and trait biodiversity in a large marine ecosystem: Causes and consequences." PLoS ONE 12(12): e0189731.

dos Santos Schmidt, T. C., A. Slotte, J. Kennedy, S. Sundby, A. Johannessen, G. J. Óskarsson, Y. Kurita, N. C. Stenseth and O. S. Kjesbu (2017). "Oogenesis and reproductive investment of Atlantic herring are functions of not only present but long-ago environmental influences as well." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(10): 2634-2639.

Evans, C., J. Brandsma, D. W. Pond, H. J. Venables, M. P. Meredith, H. J. Witte, S. Stammerjohn, W. H. Wilson, A. Clarke and C. P. Brussaard (2017). "Drivers of interannual variability in virioplankton abundance at the coastal Western Antarctic Peninsula and the potential effects of climate change." Environmental Microbiology 19(2): 740-755.

Everett, J. D., M. E. Baird, P. Buchanan, C. Bulman, C. Davies, R. Downie, C. Griffiths, R. Heneghan, R. J. Kloser, L. Laiolo, A. Lara-Lopez, H. Lozano-Montes, R. J. Matear, F. McEnnulty, B. Robson, W. Rochester, J. Skerratt, J. A. Smith, J. Strzelecki, I. M. Suthers, K. M. Swadling, P. van Ruth and A. J. Richardson (2017). "Modeling What We Sample and Sampling What We Model: Challenges for Zooplankton Model Assessment." Frontiers in Marine Science 4(77).

Fu, C., N. Olsen, N. Taylor, A. Grüss, S. Batten, H. Liu, P. Verley, Y.-J. Shin and H. e. J. Link (2017). "Spatial and temporal dynamics of predator-prey species interactions off western Canada." ICES Journal of Marine Science 74(8): 2107-2119.

Giering, S. L. C., R. Sanders, A. P. Martin, S. A. Henson, J. S. Riley, C. M. Marsay and D. G. Johns (2017). "Particle flux in the oceans: Challenging the steady state assumption." Global Biogeochemical Cycles 31(1): 159-171.

Giron-Nava, A., C. C. James, A. F. Johnson, D. Dannecker, B. Kolody, A. Lee, M. Nagarkar, G. M. Pao, H. Ye and D. G. Johns (2017). "Quantitative argument for long-term ecological monitoring." Marine Ecology Progress Series 572: 269-274.

Howells, R. J., S. J. Burthe, S. O. Green, M. P. Harris, M. A. Newell, A. Butler, D. G. Johns, E. J. Carnell, S. Wanless and F. Daunt (2017). "From days to decades: short- and long-term variation in environmental conditions affect offspring diet composition of a marine top predator." Marine Ecology Progress Series 583: 227-242.

Holm, M. W., T. Kiørboe, P. Brun, P. Licandro, R. Almeda and B. W. Hansen (2017). "Resting eggs in free living marine and estuarine copepods." Journal of Plankton Research: 1-14.

Hoppenrath, M., N. Yubuki, R. Stern and B. S. Leander (2017). "Ultrastructure and molecular phylogenetic position of a new marine sand-dwelling dinoflagellate from British Columbia, Canada: Pseudadenoides polypyrenoides sp. nov.(Dinophyceae)." European Journal of Phycology 52(2): 208-224.

Howells, R. J., S. J. Burthe, J. A. Green, M. P. Harris, M. A. Newell, A. Butler, D. G. Johns, E. J. Carnell, S. Wanless and F. Daunt (2017). "From days to decades: short-and long-term variation in environmental conditions affect offspring diet composition of a marine top predator." Marine Ecology Progress Series 583: 227-242.

Lawrence, S. A., S. A. Floge, J. E. Davy, S. K. Davy and W. H. Wilson (2017). "Exploratory analysis of Symbiodinium transcriptomes reveals potential latent infection by large dsDNA viruses." Environmental Microbiology.

Lindegren, M., M. Van Deurs, B. R. MacKenzie, L. Worsoe Clausen, A. Christensen and A. Rindorf (2017). "Productivity and recovery of forage fish under climate change and fishing: North Sea sandeel as a case study." Fisheries Oceanography.

Lynam, C. P., M. Llope, C. Möllmann, P. Helaouët, G. A. Bayliss-Brown and N. C. Stenseth (2017). "Interaction between top-down and bottom-up control in marine food webs." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(8): 1952-1957.

Mahadik, G. A., C. Castellani and M. G. *Mazzocchi (2017). "Effect of diatom morphology on the small-scale behavior of the copepod Temora stylifera (Dana, 1849)." Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 493(Supplement C): 41-48.

Manno, C., N. Bednaršek, G. A. Tarling, V. L. Peck, S. Comeau, D. Adhikari, D. C. E. Bakker, E. Bauerfeind, A. J. Bergan, M. I. Berning, E. Buitenhuis, A. K. Burridge, M. Chierici, S. Flöter, A. Fransson, J. Gardner, E. L. Howes, N. Keul, K. Kimoto, P. Kohnert, G. L. Lawson, S. Lischka, A. Maas, L. Mekkes, R. L. Oakes, C. Pebody, K. T. C. A. Peijnenburg, M. Seifert, J. Skinner, P. S. Thibodeau, D. Wall-Palmer and P. Ziveri (2017). "Shelled pteropods in peril: Assessing vulnerability in a high CO2 ocean." Earth-Science Reviews 169: 132-145.

McQuatters-Gollop, A., D. G. Johns, E. Bresnan, J. Skinner, I. Rombouts, R. Stern, A. *Aubert, M. Johansen, J. *Bedford and A. Knights (2017). "From microscope to management: The critical value of plankton taxonomy to marine policy and biodiversity conservation." Marine Policy 83: 1-10.

Meyer-Gutbrod, E. L. and C. H. Greene (2017). "Uncertain recovery of the North Atlantic right whale in a changing ocean." Global Change Biology: 1-10.

Middleton, J. E., J. Martínez Martínez, W. H. Wilson and N. R. Record (2017). "Functional dynamics of Emiliania huxleyi virus‐host interactions across multiple spatial scales." Limnology and Oceanography 62(3): 922-933.

Reuman, D. C., L. Zhao, L. W. Sheppard, P. C. Reid and J. E. Cohen (2017). "Synchrony affects Taylor’s law in theory and data." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: 201703593.

Serpetti, N., A. R. Baudron, M. T. Burrows, B. L. Payne, P. Helaouët, P. G. Fernandes and J. J. Heymans (2017). "Impact of ocean warming on sustainable fisheries management informs the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries." Scientific Reports 7(1): 13438.

Sheppard, L. W., P. C. Reid and D. C. Reuman (2017). "Rapid surrogate testing of wavelet coherences." EPJ Nonlinear Biomedical Physics 5: 1.

Weynberg, K., M. Allen and W. H. Wilson (2017). "Marine Prasinoviruses and Their Tiny Plankton Hosts: A Review." Viruses 9(3): 43.

Wilson, W. H., I. C. Gilg, M. Moniruzzaman, E. K. Field, S. Koren, G. R. LeCleir, J. M. Martínez, N. J. Poulton, B. K. Swan and R. Stepanauskas (2017). "Genomic exploration of individual giant ocean viruses." The ISME Journal 11: 1736-1745.

Technical Reports/ Books

Bresnan, E., C. B. Austin, C. J. A. Campos, K. Davidson, M. Edwards, A. Hall, D. Lees, A. Mckinney, S. Milligang and J. Silkeh (2017). Human Health. MCCIP Science Review 2017.

Castellani, C. and M. Edwards (2017). Marine Plankton: A Practical Guide to Ecology, Methodology, and Taxonomy, Oxford University Press.

Costello, M. J., Z. Basher, L. McLeod, I. Assad, S. Claus, F. Hernandez, J. Mees, L. Vandepitte, M. Yasuhara, H. Gislason, M. Edwards, W. Appeltans, H. Enevoldsen, G. Edgar, P. Miloslavich, S. D. Monte and I. S. Pinto (2016). Chapter 7. Methods for the observation of marine biodiversity  In: The GEO Handbook on Biodiversity Observation Networks, Springer International Publishing AG.

Cottier-Cook, E. J., C. Beveridge, J. D. D. Bishop, J. Brodie, P. F. Clark, G. Epstein, S. R. Jenkins, D. G. Johns, J. Loxton, A. MacLeod, C. Maggs, D. Minchin, F. Mineur, J. Sewell and C. A. and Wood (2017). Non-native species. MCCIP Science Review 201747-61.

Edwards, M.D. BroughtonR. CampG. GrahamP. Helaouët and R. Stern (2017). AtlantOS plankton report: Based on observations from the Continuous Plankton Recorder Survey. SAHFOS Technical Report12: 1-15.

Williamson, P., C. Turley and C. Ostle (2017). Ocean acidification. MCCIP Science Review 201747-61.

Wootton, M.A. C. FischerC. OstleJ. SkinnerD. P. Stevens and D. G. Johns (In Press). Using the Continuous Plankton Recorder to Study the Distribution and Ecology of Marine Pelagic Copepods. New York Nova Science Publishers, Inc.