Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS)

A web-based provider of global geo-referenced information on marine species, with online tools for visualizing relationships among species and their environment.


Ward Appeltans

Project Leader:

Ward Appeltans, OBIS Secretariat. UNESCO-IOC Project Office, Ostend, Belgium
Edward Vanden Berghe and J. Frederick Grassle, former project leaders


Visit the OBIS website. 

The Ocean Biogeographic Information System, or OBIS, is an international information system focused on marine biodiversity. It provides expert geo-referenced data on marine species and as of early 2011 contained more than 30 million geo-referenced, accurately identified species records from more than 800 databases. OBIS provides spatial query tools for visualizing relationships among species and their environment. This information is readily and freely accessible by the Internet and requires no special software to use.

Created as the data integration component of the Census of Marine Life, OBIS has grown beyond its original scope and now integrates data from many sources, over a wide range of marine themes, from poles to the equator, from microbes to whales. It is now the world’s largest online repository of geo-referenced data and is projected to grow at a rate of about 5 million records per year. Its datasets are integrated so they can be seamlessly searched by species name, higher taxonomic level, geographic area, depth, and time. OBIS allows users to identify biodiversity hotspots and large-scale ecological patterns, analyze distributions of species over time and space, and plot species' locations with temperature, salinity, and depth.

At its 2009 General Assembly, the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission adopted OBIS as one of its programs under the International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE). With the support of policy makers and nations it serves, OBIS will continue to grow and thrive under IODE, remaining a permanent legacy of Census collaboration.

A global network of Regional and Thematic OBIS Nodes assures the worldwide scientific support needed to fulfill its global mission. Strong ties exist with many of the important international environmental organizations, such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), the Encyclopedia of Life, the Convention for Biological Diversity, the Food and Agricultural Organization, and many others.

Distribution of data on marine species available from the OBIS Portal
through July 27, 2010. The squares are 5 degrees square. The colour represents the number of records per surface area (squares on the poles look the same in this map, but are actually much smaller than the squares at the equator). Red is high number of records, blue low, with the few white spots having no records at all. Searching and mapping functions make OBIS a powerful tool for studying marine biodiversity.
Ocean Biogeographic Information System. www.iobis.org.