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

Mark J.
J. Frederick

Project Leaders:
Dr. Mark J. Costello, Leigh Marine Laboratory, University of Auckland, New Zealand, Chair and Executive Officer of the Ocean Biogeographic Information System

Dr. J. Frederick Grassle, Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA

Visit the OBIS web site  ~  More information (pdf) about OBIS

Add data to OBIS

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 currently contains more than 8.7 million georeferenced, accurately identified species records from more than 70 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.

OBIS will integrate biological, physical, and chemical oceanographic data from numerous sources, provide a tools to test hypotheses about marine biodiversity, and assist research on marine ecosystems. Users of OBIS, including researchers, students, and environmental managers, will gain a dynamic view of the distribution of marine species over space and time.

OBIS was established by the Census of Marine Life program ( in 1999 and will integrate new data produced by the CoML field projects. Bringing together data from many fields allows us to discover new patters and from new collaborations that yield discoveries. A CoML scientist discovered a new species of 10 m-long squid and the project has generated a number of other scientific discoveries and publications. Many of these are available here (

The OBIS portal ( is the central access point for the distributed network and has received a complete makeover although much of the original graphical look of the site has been retained. At the portal, users can search a network of participating databases for information on species of interest by common name or scientific name. This data can be presented in a table or graphically using provided mapping tools.

Distribution of data on marine species available from the OBIS Portal in June 2005. Searching and mapping functions make it the most powerful tool for studying marine biodiversity. Ocean Biogeographic Information System. June 2005.

The portal also contains outreach material such as lesson plans for teachers. These lesson plans use the data in OBIS to teach core concepts in science. For example, the first lesion plan, taxonomic twisters, is designed to teach how scientists classify living things into groups based on similar characteristics.

There are a new Frequently Asked Questions and Technical Resources sub pages which will help answer common questions about OBIS as well as assist those who wish to submit data. The CephBase, FishBase, Hexacoral and SEAMAP databases submitted images to the image library sub page to graphically show the biodiversity of marine life OBIS encompasses.

The OBIS portal is just the front end of a growing federation of sites, many of which are portals themselves for the geographic region, taxa or tools that they cover. The next section briefly outlines some of the OBIS projects. For the full name of projects and more information, please click on the links.

  • BATS Zooplankton (
    This study of plankton diversity at the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) site.
  • Biogeoinformatics of Hexacorals (
    This site provides a public information resource of data, interpretation, and methods related to the taxonomy, biogeography, and habitat characteristics or environmental correlates of the Hexacorallia.
  • Biotic Databast of Indo-Pacific Marine Mollusks (
    The primary objective of this project is to provide a database of the estimated 25,000 named species of mollusks in the Indo-Pacific region, with summary data on their distribution and ecology.
  • CSIRO Marine Research (
    The c-squares mapper is a perl utility which plots dataset extents on a range of base maps, according to a string of c-squares passed to it via the web.
  • CephBase (
    CephBase provides taxonomic data, life history, distribution, images, videos, references and scientific contact information on all living species of cephalopods (octopus, squid, cuttlefish and nautilus) in an easy to access, user-friendly manner.
  • FAO Catch and Aquaculture Production (
    FAO is one of the largest specialized agencies in the United Nations system and the lead agency for fisheries.
  • FishBase (
    FishBase is a large global database with key information on all fishes of the world. It provides distributional information on all marine and brackish fishes and access to major fish collections all over the world.
  • Fishnet ( FishNet is a distributed information system that uses Z39.50 and XML protocols to link the specimen records of museums and other institutions in a seamless information-retrieval system.
  • Gulf of Maine Biogeographic Information System (
    This project is an information system and set of software facilitating the integration, visualization, analysis and dissemination of diverse types of oceanographic information in support of biogeographical studies.
  • History of Marine Animal Populations (
    HMAP is the historical component of the Census of Marine Life (CoML), an international research program assessing and explaining the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine organisms throughout the world's oceans.
  • The Huntsman Marine Science Centre (
    Through research and education, the HMSC will enhance knowledge and provide the leadership necessary to achieve sustainable development and effective management of the coastal environment.
  • Integrated Taxonomic Information System (
    ITIS is a database with reliable information on species names and their hierarchical classification. The database will be reviewed periodically to ensure high quality with valid classifications, revisions, and additions of newly described species.
  • Maritimes Region Homepage (Canada) (
    The mission is to manage Canada's oceans and major waterways so that they are clean, safe, productive and accessible and ensure sustainable use of fisheries resources and facilitate marine trade and commerce.
  • National Ocean Data Center (
    The NODC archives and provides public access to oceanographic observational data and products, provides scientific oceanographic data services, and conducts assessments of the ocean environment.
    SEAMAP (Spatial Ecological Analysis of Megavertebrate Populations) is an initiative to better understand the biogeography and ecology of large marine vertebrates on a worldwide scale.
  • SeamountsOnline (
    This is a NSF-funded project designed to gather information on species found on seamount globally, and to provide a freely-available online resource for searching and downloading this information.
  • Species 2000 (
    The thrust of the Species 2000 plan is to create an array of participant global species databases covering each of the major groups of organisms. Each such database will cover all known species in the group, using a consistent taxonomic system.
  • ZooGene (
    ZooGene is an international partnership to develop a zooplankton genomic database of DNA type sequences for calanoid copepods and euphausiids.
  • Vecchione M, Young R.E., Guerra A., Lindsay D.J. Clague D.A., Bernhard J.M. and Sager W.W. Gonzoalz A.F.F., Rocha J., and Segon-zac M. 2001 Worldwide observations or remarkable deep-sea squids as calibrated technologies and protocols are adopted in many regions. Science. 294: 2505.
  • Zhang Y. and Grassle J.F. 2003 A portal for the Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Oceanologica 25: 193-197.

Visit the Ocean Biogeographic Information System web site

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