Skip to content


What is OBIS?

The Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS) is an open-access data platform for a wide range of marine biodiversity data. OBIS was adopted as a project under the UNESCO IODE program in 2009.

Darwin Core Archive (DwC-A)

To publish data to OBIS and integrate it with other data collections, marine biodiversity data needs to be standardized to the Darwin Core (DwC) body of standards, which provides stable terminology1 and controlled vocabularies2 used for sharing data. The DwC data standard and the Ecological Metadata Language (EML) metadata standard used in OBIS comprise the Darwin Core Archive (DwC-A) file format3.

OBIS Data Format

While the initial focus for OBIS was on biological taxonomic occurrence data, the schema was extended to the OBIS-ENV-DATA format4. This format allows data providers to include biological and physical measurements or attributes with their occurrence data. The Darwin Core schema consists of a core data table with (an) extension(s) tables, logically arranged in a star schema and linked to each other through unique identifiers in a nested structure. Each of these tables include required fields, with specific fields needing to be formatted to international standards (i.e. the geographic coordinates, and date-time) (see Darwin Core Mapping).

See the OBIS Manual for additional information and examples related to data tables.

Data accessibility

There are several ways to download or use data from OBIS:

  1. Darwin Core Quick Reference Guide 

  2. NERC Vocabulary Server 

  3. Darwin Core: An Evolving Community-Developed Biodiversity Data Standard
    Wieczorek J, Bloom D, Guralnick R, Blum S, Döring M, et al. (2012) Darwin Core: An Evolving Community-Developed Biodiversity Data Standard. PLOS ONE 7(1): e29715. 

  4. Toward a new data standard for combined marine biological and environmental datasets - expanding OBIS beyond species occurrences
    De Pooter D, et al. (2017) Biodiversity Data Journal 5: e10989.