Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS)

The Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) seeks to absorb, integrate, and assess isolated datasets into a larger, more comprehensive picture of life in our oceans. The system hopes to stimulate research about our oceans to generate new hypotheses concerning evolutionary processes, species distributions, and roles of organisms in marine systems on a global scale. The maps generated by OBIS contribute to the 'big picture' of our oceans: a comprehensive, collaborative, world-wide view of our oceans.

OBIS provides a portal or gateway to many datasets containing information on where and when marine species have been recorded. The datasets are integrated so you can search them all seamlessly by species names, higher taxonomic level, geographic area, depth, and time; and then map and find environmental data related to the locations.

OBIS Canada is the Canadian Regional node. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) supports OBIS, and DFO houses the data repository at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography.

The concept of OBIS (Ocean Biogeographic Information System) was first developed at a conference sponsored by the Census of Marine Life (CoML) in 1997. At the time, a comprehensive system for the retrieval of ocean biological data did not exist. Not long after the initial meeting, OBIS was established as a project of the Census of Marine Life to help facilitate global enfranchisement of data within the scientific community.

Evolution and strategic alliance

OBIS is an evolving strategic alliance of people and organizations sharing a vision to make marine biogeographic data, from all over the world, freely available over the World Wide Web. The system has evolved and will continue to evolve. It's not a project or program, and is not limited to data from Census of Marine Life-related projects.

Any organization, consortium, project or individual may contribute to OBIS. In 2009 OBIS was adopted by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC), as one of its activities under the International Oceanogaphic Data Exchange (IODE) programme, of which MEDS is a member. Since then, OBIS and IODE staff members have been working on making this integration a reality.

OBIS is tailored towards global awareness of our oceans and global contribution to knowledge about our oceans. Thus, it is extremely important that OBIS maintains its status as an 'open-access' database.

Open accessibility

Open accessibility creates a database which

  • allows nations to meet their obligations to the Convention on Biological Diversity to report on the biodiversity in their exclusive economic zones.
  • offers researchers and surveyors and other collectors of data the convenience of a permanent repository for spatially referenced data on all forms of marine life.
  • offers seekers of data about marine biodiversity a site where they can find information about species from A to Z for all parts of the world oceans.
  • To access the OBIS Canada datasets on the OBIS portal visit the OBIS Canada Datasets.

Structure of the organization

The structure of the OBIS organization includes regional OBIS Nodes (RONs). These RONs are organizations that have committed to a continued support of OBIS within a geographic and/or national region using resources they have obtained. This includes serving data online and developing a data provider and end-user community. Some RONs provide tools, different language versions of the OBIS website, and/or provide mirror sites for the OBIS portal.

OBIS Canada is a regional OBIS Node and is hosted partly at the Bedford Institute Oceanography. It was recognized as a National Activity by the National Science Data Management Committee (NSDMC) of DFO in 2010.

The OBIS management committee (MC) is composed of the manager of each regional OBIS node.


For information on Canada's regional node please refer to OBIS Canada's web page at http://www.marinebiodiversity.ca/OBISCanada.

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