eDNA Expeditions

in marine World Heritage sites

Engaging citizen-scientists in revealing the richness and 

vulnerability of biodiversity for the conservation of UNESCO 

sites in a changing climate 





eDNA expeditions is a groundbreaking initiative aimed at describing baseline ocean biodiversity, using cutting edge eDNA sampling methods. Data will be collected through local citizen engagement, across select UNESCO-listed marine World Heritage sites. A dedicated online platform will allow researchers, managers as well as every citizen on Earth 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.





Today, the main challenge for global marine conservation is that no comprehensive baseline information exists that would allow global analysis of species richness, composition or migration patterns. The lack of such data impedes science-based local decision-making. 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.


This project will build baseline information on marine biodiversity with the use of environmental DNA samples. eDNA sampling is relatively easy, and non-invasive, allowing the active engagement of citizens in sample collection.  It has the potential to revolutionize the world’s knowledge on ecosystems and species biodiversity, all while inspiring the next generation of ocean researchers. The project will focus on detecting marine fish and red list species through metabarcoding. The data collected in this project will be open-access and shared according to the FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Repeatable) principles on the Ocean Biodiveristy Information System (OBIS). 



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. These sites may represent a significant portion of the world’s top ocean biodiversity and provide a last refuge for the majority of the world’s vulnerable and endangered species. During this project baseline samples for marine biodiversity will be collected across selected sites.


This is a citizen science project which 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.


Head of the World Heritage Marine Programme

Dr. Fanny Douvere



Project manager of the Ocean Biodiversity Information System

Ward Appeltans




eDNA expeditions is an endorsed Decade Project for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development