eDNA expeditions in UNESCO marine World Heritage sites

Environmental DNA Expeditions in UNESCO World Heritage Marine Sites

Environmental DNA Expeditions is a global, citizen science initiative that will help measure marine biodiversity, and the impacts climate change might have on the distribution patterns of marine life, across UNESCO World Heritage marine sites.

What is environmental DNA?

Ocean species shed DNA into the water around them. The genetic material from waste, mucus or cells in one liter of water can determine the species richness in a given area, without the need to actually extract organisms from their environment.

The cost effective, ethical nature of eDNA sampling has the potential to revolutionize knowledge about ecosystems and species diversity and to inspire the next generation of ocean researchers.


eDNA expeditions in UNESCO marine World Heritage sites

Sampling locations

eDNA sampling campaigns will be organized across 25 UNESCO World Heritage marine sites between September 2022 and April 2023. The results are expected to provide a one-off biodiversity snapshot, with focus on fish and megavertebrates of which several are on the IUCN Red List vulnerable and endangered species.

Combined with ocean warming projected scenarios, an analysis will be made how climate change is affecting the world’s most exceptional marine biodiversity.

eDNA map

Citizen engagement

eDNA expeditions is a citizen science initiative that empowers local communities to sample their World Heritage sites with cutting edge eDNA methods.

Across the globe, site managers will lead the work with local citizens taking water samples, filtering and fixing the DNA. Samples will be sequenced in a central laboratory.


eDNA expeditions in UNESCO marine World Heritage sites

Open Science

A central part of the initiative is to move eDNA sampling and sequencing toward a more standardized approach and secure open access for the resulting data.

By sharing the initiative’s methods as well as the data, the initiative aims to refine protocols for marine citizen-science sampling and benefit the global research community. Data will be openly available on the UNESCO Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS) (implemented by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission/IODE).

open science obis

Environmental DNA at UNESCO

Open source

Sampling protocols, analysis techniques and resulting data will be openly available at the OBIS webpages

Citizen Science

Local citizens and youth will undertake eDNA sampling, inspiring the next generations of ocean scientists

Decision-making support

Sampling results will help sites to adapt decision-making as marine biodiversity evolves in a warming climate

Standardizing methods

Bringing together the best of eDNA will help improve data comparability and equitable benefit sharing.


Government of Flanders (Kingdom of Belgium)
UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development

Project Contacts

Fanny Douvere
Coordinator, World Heritage Marine Programme
Ward Appeltans
Project manager of the Ocean Biodiversity Information System