A Home for Biodiversity Marine Data: Fisheries and Oceans Canada Coordinates the Canadian Node of the Ocean Biogeographic Information System
Protecting and conserving the biodiversity and resources of ocean ecosystems, among other stewardship issues, requires access to a broad range of knowledge about the planet's marine environment, as well as services, tools and data analysis systems to enhance understanding of the challenges involved. Across Canada and around the world, marine scientists and others are steadily adding to our knowledge of ocean life through a variety of research that can inform marine management decisions.
Pink dots on the map above indicate the locations of samples contain marine life data and museum collections compiled and submitted to the Ocean Biogeographic Information System by its Canadian node, OBIS Canada, which is supported by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The international database contains spatially referenced data on the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine life around the world.
Mary Kennedy, DFO (data extracted from OBIS July 2011)
The Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) - the marine component of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) - is a network and central database for this growing wealth of information. It provides researchers, surveyors and others who collect data with a permanent repository for spatially referenced data on the diversity, distribution and abundance of all forms of marine life around the world. And it provides anyone, including the public, with a central internet site from which to search for data on marine species and biodiversity.
Beige dots represent the sample locations in the Ocean Biogeographic Information System database (including museum collections) that fall within the 'Canadian area of interest', which extends from 35° to 90° degrees North latitude and 40° to 180° degrees West longitude. Participating in this global organization provides everyone with access to a much larger dataset than is available from local data providers.
Mary Kennedy, DFO (data extracted from OBIS July 2011)
Building on the Census of Marine Life
Originally created in 2001 as the data management component of the 10-year international Census of Marine Life, the network has expanded to encompass regional, country, continent and thematic nodes. In October 2010, OBIS became a project of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission under its International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange programme. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is a participating member of the programme.
OBIS enables countries to meet their obligations to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity to report on the biological diversity in their exclusive economic zones. As of August 2011, the international database contained more than 31 million accurately identified and georeferenced species records, representing 116,603 "valid marine species" from more than 939 different datasets. These datasets can be searched in a variety of ways including by area, species and economic zone. Each record represents a scientific species name at a particular location.
Information gathered on the diversity and location of marine life across Canada, from large to the miniscule, can be found in the OBIS Canada database, including: 1) endangered Scotian Shelf northern bottlenose whales, shown surfacing in the Gully Marine Protected Area off the coast of Nova Scotia; 2) the green sea urchin from the St. Lawrence Estuary; 3) copepods such as Neocalanus flemingeri (top) and N. plumchrus (bottom) ; and 4) marine plants such as Fucus vesiculosus, a species of seaweed.
1) CaRMS Photogallery / Hilary Moors, 2011; 2) CaRMS Photogallery / Claude Nozères, 2011; 3) CaRMS Photogallery / Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Moira Galbraith, 2011; 4) CaRMS Photogallery / Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2011
The Canadian node, OBIS Canada, is coordinated and hosted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and the website is hosted by the Centre for Marine Biodiversity and Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Its mission is to document where and when marine species have been observed or collected, to integrate the isolated datasets into a larger, more comprehensive picture of national and regional ocean life, and to provide up-to-date data and tools for exploring changes in ocean biodiversity in response to environmental instability or anthropogenic impacts.
"OBIS Canada and the international OBIS portal will lead to better monitoring, understanding and prediction of changes in marine biodiversity, including species distribution and the roles of organisms in marine systems on a global scale," says acting OBIS Canada manager, Fisheries and Oceans Canada Aquatic Biologist Mary Kennedy. The OBIS Canada database has about 1,123,271 records of about 9,000 species.
Just as Fisheries and Oceans Canada has long shared its oceanographic data with other countries through the IOC, it now has a responsibility to share its marine biodiversity data through OBIS. In return, the Department gains access to broader range of data from different sources that can be used to inform, in part, the management of marine protected and biologically significant areas.
OBIS data can be used to, among other things, analyze the distribution of species over time and space, identify biodiversity hotspots and large-scale ecological patterns, and plot the location of species in relation to salinity, temperature and depth and other oceanic conditions.
Datasets in OBIS Canada come from many different sources, including multidisciplinary oceanographic missions aboard vessels such as the CCGS Hudson, as well as ongoing monitoring such as from the Atlantic Zone Monitoring Program (AZMP).
Kelly Bentham, DFO
Anyone can contribute
Any organization can contribute to the database, including provincial and federal government departments, universities, museums, parks and conservation areas, environmental consulting companies, as well as the general public. OBIS Canada assists with transferring and reviewing data sets prior to their release to the general public.
“The network enables contributors to distribute and share their data in a standardized format, which makes it possible to integrate information on different types of marine life,” says Kennedy. "Submitting data to OBIS also reduces the time required to maintain separate websites and databases and to respond to individual requests for information."
Several museums and science centres operate programs that contribute to the Census of Marine Life, whose data are integrated into the OBIS database. One example is the Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking Program (POST), hosted by the Vancouver Aquarium. The program uses acoustic tagging technology to enable researchers to track the migration routes and ecosystem usage of Pacific salmon and other marine species beneath the surface of the ocean. Data extrapolated from the tracking includes the direction, speed and timing of movements of individual animals and, in some cases, the regions of the coast and times of the year where mortality occurred. This information can be used to inform the development of fishery management policies aimed at the sustainable harvest of resources, and to the understanding and conservation of other marine and diadromous species that migrate between the ocean and fresh water.
Other museums which contribute to OBIS include the Canadian Museum of Nature - Fish Collection, and the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History - Marine Birds, Mammals and Fishes collection and the Atlantic Reference Centre - Invertebrates and Fishes Data collection. The OBIS Canada Newsletter has more information on Canadian datasets.
Lou Van Guelpen , Curator of Fishes and Collections Manager at the Atlantic Reference Centre in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, examines a specimen from the collection. One of the objectives of the Ocean Biogeographic Information System is to transfer data that is stored in filing cabinets and on museum shelves, such those archived at the Atlantic Reference Centre, into the OBIS database so it is accessible to all.
Atlantic Reference Centre archives
The big picture
Overview maps generated by OBIS provide a comprehensive global view of the oceans, revealing that much remains to be explored and documented. To date the database has more information from coastal areas than from open waters; more from the surface than the deep sea; more records of vertebrates and other large animals than smaller invertebrates; and more from the northern hemisphere than from the southern. It is hoped that data providers from around the world will help to fill in these gaps over time, contributing to a greater understanding of ocean life.
- Date Modified: