April 03, 2017 - OBISPREPCOM-3 BBNJ

What can OBIS do for a new UN Treaty on marine biodiversity in the open ocean?

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA resolution 69/292 on 19 June 2015) established a Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) on the development of a new legally-binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to conserve and sustainably use marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). Four BBNJ PrepCom meetings are organized at the UN in New York in 2016-2017. The third PrepCom meeting is taking place now (27 March - 7 April 2017).

Also the 49th Executive Council of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO (in June 2016) established an Intersessional Working Group (IWG) on the IOC relevant issues related to the PrepCom with the tasks to examine the possible contribution of the IOC in relation to BBNJ, particularly in areas related to marine scientific research, capacity development and transfer of marine technology, as well as data and information management, with a view to informing the participation of the IOC representative in the BBNJ process. The IWG has representatives from 25 Member States. There is general agreement in the IWG that data management and data exchange constitute one of the areas of IOC’s potential contribution to BBNJ. The IWG believes IODE and OBIS are regarded to be uniquely positioned and the creation of new mechanisms or structures with similar functions and roles should be avoided.

The Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) has the foundational technology and methodology for robust data integration, development of products and services and in fundamentally being a science mission can serve as a neutral party with regard to laws and regulations.
- Sky Bristol, OBIS Co-Chair, US Geological Survey/OBIS-USA

OBIS can be the data sharing platform and clearing house mechanism dealing with the issues of traceability, provenance and application of data in ABNJ. A federated, interoperable system for cruise information with unique persistent identifiers would benefit BBNJ and would allow the integration of cruise information with the actual sample data in OBIS. Using OBIS in a legal context will require (1) increased scrutiny of data through flagging data as appropriate or inappropriate for specific uses in consultation with legal experts and (2) the communication of uncertainty in ways consumable by non-scientist users.

If more resources can be made available, OBIS is ready to support all Member States in the collection, management, publication and analysis of marine biodiversity data. This year, six OBIS training courses will take place in Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Senegal, Malaysia and Belgium as part of the IOC OceanTeacher Global Academy. However, we need to further scale up capacity building efforts to expand the network and maximize the contribution and application of marine biodiversity data.
- Prof Eduardo Klein, OBIS Co-Chair, Simon Bolivar University/Caribbean OBIS
With OBIS, BBNJ can build on an existing network of more than 600 institutions world-wide that provide data to the central OBIS office through a network of 27 national or regional OBIS nodes. It is crucial that Member States actively support their national OBIS nodes to ensure they can provide the necessary data. Also the central OBIS office of IOC will need to be further resourced so it can provide the technical support, training and information required for BBNJ.
- Ward Appeltans, OBIS project manager, IOC-UNESCO

More information on BBNJ PrepCom-3 can be found at: