OBON Strategy

We propose a global programme, the Ocean Biomolecular Observing Network (OBON), that uses techniques to analyse biomolecules such as DNA, RNA, and proteins (e.g., eDNA analysis, metabarcoding, omics) to greatly enhance coastal and open ocean biodiversity observations. We exploit the fact that every lifeform in the ocean, from viruses to the largest marine mammals, contains or leaves behind a biomolecular trace (e.g., nucleic acids) that can be analysed directly from a tissue, seawater or sediment sample. The programme will utilise biomolecular technologies to monitor, research and understand life in the sea at every trophic level and scale, how life varies in response to climate and anthropogenic impacts, including fisheries, and how these changes impact society.

Objective 1:

To build a coastal-to-open ocean multi-omics biodiversity observing system over the Ocean Decade.

The programme will:

  • develop capability through the collection, analysis, and archival of biomolecules (e.g., nucleic acids) and reference samples using both autonomous and manual collections from fixed locations or grids where measurements of biological, biogeochemical and other parameters are also collected (e.g., California Cooperative Oceanic and Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI), Hawaii Ocean Timeseries (HOT), Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS), Monterey Bay, Western Channel Observatory – English Channel, Coastal and fixed observatories, GOOS Regional Alliances, seabed mapping campaigns or established citizen science networks); and
  • adapt sequencing and biomolecular technology originally developed for the medical diagnostics industry and eventually deploy a global network of autonomous platforms with biomolecular sensing capability that will greatly expand the foot-print of the fixed locations. This autonomous platform network will provide persistent synoptic observations of the biology of the ocean analogous to the physical measurements of the Argo network. Our aim is to sustainably interface our observations with other international, multi-disciplinary ocean observation and data management efforts, and specifically target the IOC-UNESCO GOOS Essential Ocean Variables (EOVs) and Essential Biological Variables (EBVs). Our activities will adhere to IOC open data requirements.

Objective 2:

To develop and transfer capacity so as to initiate additional marine biomolecular observation activities through training programs combined with funded equipment programs supported by development/aid agencies and philanthropy.

These programs will be developed in collaboration with the nations involved and will focus on sampling/analysis programs that address issues outlined in the Ocean Decade goals and UN SDGs (e.g., predicting biological hazards, managing protected ecosystems, etc.). Activities will include tools to enable access to and analysis of data by non-specialists, increasing the impact and reach of observations.

Objective 3:

To enhance marine ecosystem models (including new modelling based on machine learning) by adding biomolecular components so the models can utilize data collected from the coordinated molecular observations described in O1 and generate 4D multi-omic biodiversity seascapes.

Basic open source modelling efforts that support the Ocean Decade goals will also be supported as part of the programme. As has been the case with other large-scale ocean observation programs, the programme will benefit from additional modelling efforts initiated by the scientific and user communities. The programme will ensure that data flows are standardized and harmonized to support model development, as well as to secure a FAIR digital legacy. We will encourage all modelling to be open source. 

Objective 4:

To address pressing scientific, management, and policy questions linked to the state and dynamics of life in the ocean, including exploited resources and those affected by other pressures.

Because we will develop the observing system in partnership with the stakeholders impacted by or managing marine life, the programme will be designed to provide solutions for scientific, management and policy challenges. These partnerships will also be essential in communicating the importance of the system to governments and the public. The focus on observations that can be used to address issues and challenges related to sustainable development will require that the observing system fully engages with the linked open data approach and digital ecosystem outlined in the Ocean Decade Implementation Plan, connecting our partners’ data to other ocean, atmosphere, cryosphere and land observing systems, as well as socioeconomic data stores.


To accelerate informed decision-making to restore the health of our oceans using the universal signatures of life on Earth: biomolecules.


To create a hub for biomolecular measurement of marine life

OBON Science Meeting in Plymouth, November 2023
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