eDNA, a Science For The Ocean

eDNA, a Science For The Ocean

Aimed at protecting and preserving Marine World Heritages, the United Nations has embarked on a mission “environmental DNA” (e-DNA) with the participation of the local people.

Launching the new programme, UNESCO said that scientists and local residents would take samples of genetic material from fish waste, mucous membranes or cells, eDNA, to monitor species


eDNA expedition, a groundbreaking initiative aimed at describing baseline ocean biodiversity, uses cutting edge eDNA sampling methods. The data is collected through local citizen engagement, across select UNESCO-listed marine World Heritage sites. The online platform launched on October 18 will allow researchers, managers as well as the people to access the data and jointly step up protection of the ocean for future generations.

“Together, we will build the science we need for the ocean we want and set the course for strategic action for the UN Decade for Ocean Science for sustainable development. The use of eDNA in ocean monitoring and data collection is still in its infancy and standard protocols for sampling and data management will be streamlined  in  UNESCO’s groundbreaking eDNA project.” The UN said.

UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, Ernesto Ottone Ramírez said “Marine World Heritage sites play a critical role in protecting marine ecosystems of exceptional universal value and provide opportunities for the public to appreciate and preserve marine environments.”

For the first time, the UN said that it would apply a consistent  methodology  across multiple marine protected areas simultaneously, helping establish global standards, data monitoring and management practices while  making  that  information available to the public.

All data will be processed and published by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS), the world’s largest open-access data system on the distribution and diversity of marine species, maintained and collectively supported by a worldwide network of scientists, data managers and users.


UNESCO said that the two-year initiative would help measure the vulnerability of marine biodiversity to climate change and its impact on the distribution and migration patterns of marine life across World Heritage sites.

The eDNA project, which involves collecting and analyzing samples from the environment – such as soil, water and air – rather than an individual organism, will also better monitor and protect endangered species included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

One of the main challenges for global marine conservation is that no comprehensive baseline information exists that allow global analysis of species richness, composition or migration patterns. The lack of such data impedes science-based local decision-making, the UN said. Increasing biodiversity knowledge will enable effective management efforts, and will help to quantify the central role of marine protected areas for the preservation of endangered species, the organisation added.


UNESCO’s Marine World Heritage sites represent 50 unique ocean places across 37 nations, stretching from the tropics to the poles and are recognized for their unique biodiversity, outstanding ecosystems, unparalleled beauty or for representing major stages in Earth’s history.


A citizen project , the new programme will empower and engage local communities to sample their marine sites with standardized cutting-edge eDNA methods. With the help of expert support, site managers will lead the work and local citizens will take water samples, filter and fix the DNA, and the samples will be shipped to a central laboratory for processing and sequencing.  Through the close collaboration between the Marine programme of the World Heritage Convention and the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS), the project will benefit from strong networks with the site managers as well as the global scientific community.

eDNA expeditions will start as a two-year project running from 2022-2023, funded by the Flanders Unesco Science trust fund (FUST) and Flanders General Trust fund (FUT). Citizen science sampling expeditions are expected to run from mid 2022 to the beginning of the year 2023.


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