Today, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) successfully concluded a three-day online workshop on Enhancing Image-based Biodiversity Assessments to Advance Deep-Sea Taxonomy. The workshop, which was organized with the support of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries of Korea and the National Marine Biodiversity Institute of Korea, involved over 120 participants from 41 countries.
This event builds on a series of workshops conducted by ISA since 2013 on deep-sea taxonomy and aimed at addressing one of the priorities highlighted during a workshop held in September 2020, namely: to identify the best means to share images of deep-sea species and to optimize and standardize their application for species identification and description in biodiversity assessments.
In his opening remarks, the Secretary-General of ISA, H.E. Mr. Michael W. Lodge, expressed his appreciation for the continuous support provided by Korea to advance deep-sea taxonomy. Noting that the workshop constituted another milestone in the implementation of the mandate given to ISA by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Secretary-General Lodge said: “Advancing deep-sea taxonomy is critical to generate the biodiversity data and information that is necessary to support the Authority as it strives to establish an effective regulatory framework for activities in the Area.” He continued by stating: “I hope that this workshop will enable the development of innovative tools and methodologies for biodiversity assessments”.
The Honorable Mr. Sang Keun Song, Deputy Minister of Oceans and Fisheries of Korea, recalled the contribution of the 2020 workshop in establishing a platform to facilitate collaboration to advance research and capacity-building related to deep-sea taxonomy. “Utilizing data from images is increasingly viewed as one of the more efficient and less invasive approaches for the assessment of deep-sea biodiversity and to preserve such biodiversity. Images are also easier to be shared and utilized for a wider range of scientists and research objectives,” he said.
Dr. Sundo Hwang, President of the National Marine Biodiversity Institute of Korea, reiterated that the Institute stands ready to continue to work closely with ISA and the Ministry to support on-going efforts to digitalize deep-sea data, information and knowledge by sharing its expertise on taxonomy, technology on marine information systems and its experience in running outreach programs.
Among other issues, participants discussed image acquisition, image archiving and sharing, metadata and annotations as well as knowledge exchange and capacity building.
To advance image acquisition, participants highlighted the need to further compile and integrate various existing relevant guidelines and manuals into the Ocean Best Practices System of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO. Image reference catalogues for each mineral province can also be standardized in alignment with the Regional Environment Management Plans being developed by ISA.
Considering the heavy infrastructure requirements for archiving and sharing imagery data, participants said that the community should increasingly turn to cloud-based storage. In this regard, ISA DeepData database can play an important role thanks to its scalable storage capacity and interoperability with other databases. It was also suggested that DeepData could be further developed to store annotated metadata following latest standards for wider use, including machine-learning datasets.
As more expertise will be needed among the community to ensure sound image annotations, setting up a platform for knowledge exchange and training was recommended.
Finally, participants noted the importance of increasing deep-sea literacy and actively engaging the public. While the workshop involved deep-sea taxonomy experts, an open session on 14 October attracted a broader audience. On this occasion, the ISA Secretariat presented a roadmap for the integration of deep-sea taxonomic knowledge into ISA’s efforts to ensure the protection of the marine environment in the Area.
In this context, participants were informed of different opportunities to collaborate on innovative tools for robust deep-sea biodiversity assessments and strengthening capacity-building efforts in the field of deep-sea taxonomy. Particpants also highlighted the importance of creating synergies between different partners and existing initiatives to effectively implement the roadmap and accelerate the progress towards the achievement of the ISA Action Plan in support of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
It is ISA’s duty under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to adopt rules, regulations, and procedures to ensure the protection of the marine environment from potential harmful effects that may arise from activities in the Area. It is also ISA’s role to promote and encourage marine scientific research in the Area and to coordinate and disseminate the results of such research. For this reason, both the ISA Strategic Plan and the ISA High-Level Action Plan for the period 2019-2023 identify specific actions to be taken towards this end. In addition, the ISA Action Plan in support of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, adopted by all Members of the Authority in 2020, identifies six strategic research priorities, including one of particular importance to this workshop: “Standardizing and innovating methodologies for deep-sea biodiversity assessment, including taxonomic identification and description, in the Area.” ISA’s expert workshops on deep-sea taxonomy are conducted in that framework.
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