On Friday, 25 November 2022, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) successfully concluded a three-day workshop on enhancing genetic approaches to advance deep-sea taxonomy for biodiversity assessment. The workshop was organized in collaboration with the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries of the Republic of Korea (MOF) and the National Marine Biodiversity Institute of Korea (MABIK) in Seocheon, Korea. It gathered experts from the scientific community, ISA exploration contractors, government and regional organizations from 20 countries attending either in person or remotely.
This workshop is the third in a series of workshops convened by ISA in collaboration with the MOF and MABIK since 2020 to advance deep-sea taxonomic knowledge and inform ISA’s efforts to protect the marine environment in the Area. It aimed to review the potential of environmental DNA (eDNA) as a non-destructive, cost-effective and easily replicable methodology for studying deep-sea biodiversity. During the 3-day workshop, participants discussed key elements and technical means necessary to enable the effective sharing and use of genetic data to facilitate deep-sea species identification and quantification.
In his opening remarks, the Director of ISA’s Office of Environmental Management and Mineral Resources, Mr. Jose Dallo, expressed his appreciation for the continuous support provided by the Republic of Korea to ISA in advancing deep-sea taxonomy in the Area. Mr. Dallo noted that the workshop constituted another milestone in implementing the mandate given to ISA by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), particularly as it relates to the protection of the marine environment and the promotion of marine scientific research in the Area.
“Advancing deep-sea taxonomy is critical to generate the biodiversity data and information necessary to support ISA as it strives to establish an effective regulatory framework for activities in the Area,” Mr. Dallo said.
“I am confident that this workshop will identify key elements for effective access and exchange of genetic data and information, raising awareness of scientific advances and promoting capacity-building efforts in deep-sea taxonomy,” he added.
Invited to open the workshop, the President of MABIK, Dr. Wan-hyun Choi, recalled the results of previous workshops, including the priority actions identified for the development of a collaborative platform to advance deep-sea taxonomic knowledge in the Area and the fundamental elements to be taken into consideration to develop a standardized model for image data exchange, archiving and sharing for biodiversity assessment and monitoring.
“MABIK is delighted to host this new workshop. It provides a timely opportunity to discuss practical approaches to standardizing methods for eDNA surveys. The fact that the workshop also intends to identify collaborative opportunities to share data, build research capacity and develop innovative tools and methodologies is another significant outcome,” Dr. Choi said.
“Effective collaboration at the institutional level is crucial for successful standardization of genetic data and methodologies and their effective application for biodiversity assessments. I wish to reiterate our continued support for the work of ISA, particularly on advancing marine scientific research through deep-sea taxonomic standardization,” he added.
During the workshop, participants identified the need for practical handbooks containing descriptions of protocols for collecting, labeling and preserving deep-sea DNA samples and analyzing DNA data using bioinformatic tools. Participants also agreed on the importance of hands-on training for data management as a prerequisite to assist in enhancing data access to public databases and building reference libraries for improved identification of species with genetic tools. The use of machine learning methods to analyze big data from eDNA surveys was also recognized as an important tool for environmental baseline studies and monitoring.
Concerning the way forward, participants stressed the central role of ISA in identifying specific training needs of contractors and Member States and in connecting with existing platforms for training and data sharing.
Pursuant to UNCLOS, ISA has a duty to adopt rules, regulations and procedures to ensure the protection of the marine environment from potentially harmful effects that may arise from activities in the Area. To that end, ISA is assigned with the responsibility to promote and encourage marine scientific research in the Area and to coordinate and disseminate the results of such research when available. The ISA Strategic Plan and the ISA High-Level Action Plan for 2019-2023 identify specific actions to be taken toward this end. This has been further reinforced in the ISA Action Plan in support of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, adopted by all Members of ISA in 2020. The Action Plan identifies six strategic research priorities, on the basis of which the programmatic activities of ISA are implemented. Of particular interest for the workshop held in partnership with the MOF and MABIK is the strategic research priority No. 2 aiming at “Standardizing and innovating methodologies for deep-sea biodiversity assessment, including taxonomic identification and description, in the Area.”
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