Ocean Biodiversity Information System

Learn about the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS) and the OBIS Canada regional OBIS node.

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What is OBIS?

The Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS) is a global open-access data and information clearing-house on marine biodiversity for science, conservation and sustainable development. The vision is for OBIS to be the most comprehensive gateway to the world’s ocean biodiversity and biogeographic data and information required to address pressing coastal and world ocean concerns. The mission is to build and maintain a global alliance that collaborates with scientific communities to facilitate free and open access to, and application of, biodiversity and biogeographic data and information on marine life.

There are more than 20 regional and thematic OBIS nodes around the world, connecting 500 institutions from 56 countries. Collectively, they have provided over 45 million observations of nearly 120 000 marine species, from Bacteria to Whales, from the surface to 10 900 meters depth, and from the Tropics to the Poles. The datasets are integrated so you can search and map them all seamlessly by species name, higher taxonomic level, geographic area, depth, time and environmental parameters.

“OBIS Canada” is the Canadian regional OBIS node and along with the Ocean Tracking Network thematic OBIS node represents Canada’s contribution to this global initiative. Fisheries and Oceans Canada supports OBIS by managing the OBIS Canada node and contributing datasets. OBIS Canada was recognized as a National Activity by the National Science Data Management Committee of Fisheries and Oceans Canada in 2010.


The concept of OBIS was first developed at a conference sponsored by the Census of Marine Life in 1997. At the time, a comprehensive system for the retrieval of ocean biological data didn't exist. 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. In 2009, OBIS was adopted as a project by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO as one of its activities under the International Oceanographic Data and Information (IODE) programme in 2009.

Collaboration and growth

OBIS is an evolving strategic alliance of people and organizations sharing a vision to make marine biodiversity data from all over the world freely available online. Anyone may contribute to OBIS, including:

To become a new data contributor for the OBIS Canada node, contact the node manager at OBISCanada@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.

Open accessibility

In this context, open accessibility means a database which:

There are several ways to access OBIS data:

The mapper allows you to visualize and inspect subsets of OBIS data. Developers can access data through the OBIS API or the R package. For more information on accessing data, see the OBIS manual. Visit our portal on the OBIS website to access the OBIS Canada datasets.

OBIS uses the Integrated Publishing Toolkit (IPT) open source software tool provided by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility to publish and share biodiversity datasets. Data contributors access an instance of the IPT to manage their contributed dataset(s). For more information on contributing data, see the Contribute Data section of the OBIS manual. Visit the OBIS Canada IPT to see the hosted datasets.


To learn more about OBIS, there is information on self-study and training seminar options for you on the OBIS Training webpage. There you will find information about accessing and contributing data.

OBIS uses the following international standards for biodiversity data:

Organizational structure

The structure of the OBIS organization includes a secretariat as well as multiple regional and thematic nodes. These organizations have committed to supporting OBIS within a subject area or geographic and/or national region using their own resources. This includes serving data online and developing a data provider and end-user community.

Some nodes provide:

The OBIS steering committee is composed of the node managers from each OBIS node.

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