The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to regulate and control seabed mineral activities in the international seabed area, also called the Area.

At the core of this mandate is the responsibility to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment from harmful effects that may arise from such activities in the Area as well as to promote and encourage marine scientific research in the Area.

Among other activities, ISA is committed to find ways to increase the dissemination, exchange and sharing of scientific data and deep-sea research outputs. For that purpose, ISA has officially joined the International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) network to serve as a data node for the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS) of IOC-UNESCO.

ISA Secretary-General Mr. Michael W. Lodge noted during a virtual event held today on World Oceans Day that “this [collaboration] is particularly significant as the Authority is the first UN body to become a node of OBIS, which clearly reflects the importance of the legal regime administered by the Authority as a mechanism for enhancing our collective understanding of deep-sea ecosystems and biodiversity. This will enable us to share more effectively the biological data and other deep-sea related information compiled in our own global repository, DeepData.”

Mr. Ariel Troisi, Chair of IOC-UNESCO, welcomed ISA’s contribution to OBIS, noting that “ISA is adding a critical piece of information to the global knowledge base. Most of the deep sea remains unexplored and every data byte adds crucial new information about life in the ocean and assists in decision making,” he added.

Increasing our understanding of the deep-sea environment and deep-sea biodiversity contributes directly towards the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030.

As highlighted by H.E. Ambassador del Solar Dorrego, Permanent Representative of Argentina to ISA and champion of ISA’s Action Plan in support of the Decade: “The goals of the Decade will only be achieved if policy makers, innovators and society have the tools at their disposal to transform data and information into solutions. For this reason, the strengthening of the cooperation between ISA and OBIS […] will be key to help better understand the oceans and find ways based on solid data on biodiversity, biogeography and the seabed area.”

ISA and IOC-UNESCO signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2011 which explicitly recognizes the importance for both organizations to cooperate in relation to the collection and exchange of data and information. By contributing its data to OBIS, ISA aims to increase access to fundamental information on samples and specimens collected in the Area over the past several decades by its contractors for environmental baseline studies while exploring the Area for mineral resources.

As of today, the ISA OBIS node contains 63 datasets from 2004 to 2019 with data on 52,057 species observations (presence records), 1,175 taxa (organisms) and 136 species.

It is expected that this will increase the scope for collaboration between the research community and ISA contractors, as well as foster collaboration among ISA contractors themselves. It will help identify potential data gaps at regional and global levels, contributing to the development and implementation of regional environmental management measures and other appropriate rules, regulations and procedures for the protection of the marine environment in the Area.  It will also further support the design of targeted training programs to build capacity in the field of biodiversity data and information, including taxonomic expertise and scientific data analysis.

As per international standards and best practices, the data stored in DeepData has been made FAIR: Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and reusable (FAIR). Over time, the interoperability between DeepData and OBIS, as well as other relevant databases such as the World Register of Marine Species (WorMS), will continue to improve data quality and standardization and contribute towards informed decision making for the protection of the marine environment.