Ocean Biodiversity Informatics
International Conference on Marine Biodiversity Data Management
Hamburg, Germany: 29 November to 1 December 2004
Intro Objectives Programme Publications Statement Participants People


‘Ocean Biodiversity Informatics’ wants to offer a forum to marine biological data managers to discuss the state of the field, and to exchange ideas on how to further develop marine biological data systems. The conference topics will be restricted to marine biological data management - taxon-based, biogeography but also environmental, non-taxon based data management. One very important aspect of the discussion will centre on potential gaps and overlaps in the taxonomic and geographic scope of existing data systems. How can we, as a community, ensure that we are covering the whole field, and that no taxonomic groups are left out? How can we make maximal use of resources, and avoid overlaps?

Marine biological data, as many other types of data, are often collected on a relatively narrow geographical scope, and over a short time span. Data gathering is often part of short-term projects or PhD or MSc theses. Yet, in order to answer questions related to global change, we need massive databases on long-term, large-scale patterns. How do we integrate individual databases into datasets that allow large-scale, long-term analyses? What is the role of international organisations such as ICES, the IOC and FAO in this? What is the role of CoML and OBIS, and of GBIF? Which others have a role to play? We are particularly interested in presentations that demonstrate how large databases have been instrumental in analysing global patterns.

Specific objectives are to

  • learn how and why researchers have used large-scale marine biodiversity databases to make major discoveries about the functioning and state of ocean ecosystems.
  • bring together biological data managers to discuss the present state, and progress, in this field since the meetings in Hamburg (1996) and Brussels (2002).
  • discuss standards and protocols for data exchange. Take note of new developments such as Distributed Generic Information Retrieval (DiGIR) and OBIS, and discuss how this will influence biological data management in general.
  • provide an opportunity for biological data managers to find out what is happening at IODE National Oceanographic Data Centres and marine research agencies from around the world.
  • discuss potential gaps and overlaps in the taxonomic and geographic scope of existing data systems. How can we, as a community, ensure that we are covering the whole field, and that no taxonomic groups are left behind? How can we make maximal use of resources, and avoid overlaps?
  • how to integrate data from separate databases into large datasets that will enable us to provide answers on the global cover and long time scales that we need?

In the second call we especially sought papers of wide international interest because of (a) the insights they bring to biodiversity, fisheries, and oceanography that used data collected at regional to global scales, and/or (b) that present novel technical solutions to the management of ocean and/or biodiversity data. Specifically, we looked for contributions that dealt with the following topics:

  • fisheries informatics;
  • insights into oceanography from analysis of data from large geographic areas;
  • novel technical solutions to managing biodiversity data, including serving, mapping and analyzing data over the internet
  • quality control, mapping, gazetteers, Geographic Markup Language, Marine XML, etc.


We know very little about the biodiversity in the world's oceans. But one thing is sure: the diversity of the type of data and information that is stored in data systems around the world is increasing dramatically. While well-managed databases with global coverage used to be restricted to geophysical sciences, this is no longer true. In two important meetings, the first in Hamburg in 1996, the second in Brussels in 2002, biologists have discussed how to take an example from the physical oceanographers, and to formulate plans on how to work together to integrate individual databases. In the workshop held in Hamburg in 1996, discussions were held on how to improve the quantity and quality of chemical and biological data available to the scientific community. The specific purpose of the workshop was to provide recommendations to guide management of chemical and biological oceanographic data by the Programme on International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.

Biological data managers met with their physical oceanography colleagues during the 'Colour of Ocean Data' symposium held in Brussels, 25-27 November 2002. While it was realised there that the needs of biological data managers were different from those of physical oceanographers, it was stressed that commonalities are more important than differences. Some applications were presented that demonstrated the power of collaboration across disciplines.

Developments in technology have made possible new approaches to data sharing and dissemination. Distributed databases are becoming a reality, and the advantages of a distributed system now far outweigh the extra cost of technical complexities to create them. The Census of Marine Life (CoML), and its data management programme Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), is making this happen for marine biogeography.

Several initiatives exist to compile lists of taxonomic names - some for specific taxa, or for a restricted geographical area, some global in geographic and taxonomic scope. While not long ago it was difficult to find any information at all, now the Internet user is confronted with a large number of possible sources, but without an indication of the quality of the proffered information.

Many marine biologists are actively gathering knowledge, as they have been doing for a long time. What is new is that many of these scientists are willing to share their knowledge, including basic data, with others over the Internet. Our challenge now is to try and manage this trend, avoid confusing users with a multitude of contradicting sources of information, and make sure different data systems can be and are effectively integrated.