BioDivMed 2023 mission: environmental DNA for unprecedented mapping of Mediterranean marine biodiversity

Under the joint impetus of the Agence de l'eau Rhône Méditerranée Corse, the University of Montpellier and an ANR-funded joint laboratory between the Marbec research unit and the SpyGen company, the BioDivMed 2023 Mission will carry out a synchronized and standardized inventory of living organisms on the French Mediterranean coast and the Pelagos sanctuary, using environmental DNA (eDNA). This unique and exemplary partnership in the service of marine biodiversity also involves Andromède Océanologie, the Vigilife alliance and two philanthropic associations based in Nice: OceanoScientific and We are Méditerranée.

Yvan Griboval, OceanoScientific

This exceptional operation will enable us to map marine biodiversity in the French Mediterranean for the first time, on a fine scale and synchronously, from the coastal zone, including lagoons, river mouths and ports, to the Pelagos sanctuary between Corsica and the mainland.

700 DNA(e) samples over 2,000 kilometers

The aim of the BioDivMed Mission? Determine and better understand the occurrences of fish, crustacean and marine mammal species, and then establish a true fine-scale cartography of marine biodiversity. To achieve this, environmental DNA (eDNA) technology will be used to enable a standardized inventory of the Mediterranean to be carried out in a synchronized fashion by four sampling campaigns: over four months, more than 700 eDNA filtrations will be carried out in marine and brackish waters spanning more than 2,000 kilometers.

eDNA metabarcoding is a new technology that makes it possible to inventory aquatic biodiversity via the DNA traces left by species in their environment. The filtration and analysis of eDNA enables the detection of numerous species, and therefore has great potential for developing a new generation of indicators of the state of health of marine waters under human impact or protection measures.

Never before has such a synchronized and standardized inventory of marine biodiversity been undertaken in France.

This unprecedented effort is the result of the collaboration and synergy of four oceanographic campaigns planned this year between May and August 2023:

  • PISCIS, a campaign to monitor the health of Posidonia meadows and coralligenous beds, implemented by Andromède océanologie on behalf of the French Water Agency;
  • PIAF, the study of marine life on loose and sandy substrates, is coordinated by the University of Montpellier;
  • TheOceanoScientific Expedition, which will travel along the Mediterranean coast from the Italian border to the Spanish border to collect eDNA samples; to inform and raise awareness of the issues surrounding the ocean and its biodiversity by carrying out the Sea & Trades Tour of the Exemplary Mediterranean Facade - Famex 2030 program;
  • The Pelagos expedition of the We are Méditerranée association, whose ambition is to study marine life in the pelagic zone, in particular that of the Pelagos sanctuary, a marine protected area (Aspim) designed to protect marine mammals in a triangle comprising the French and Italian continents and including Corsica at its apex.

Thanks to this cooperation, the first mapping of marine biodiversity (10 kilometer resolution) will be made available to all coastal and marine stakeholders and managers on the Medtrix and Vigilife Maps mapping platforms (the World Observatory of Living Things, of which the University of Montpellier and SpyGen are two founding members) in 2024.

Key dates for Mission BioDivMed 2023 :

  • April 27, 2023 : Launch of the PIAF program from Carnon
  • May 9, 2023: Launch of the Pelagos expedition from the port of Nice
  • May 20, 2023: Launch of theOceanoScientific Expedition from Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône
  • June 8* 2023: Presentation of the BioDivMed 2023 Mission in Montpellier in the presence of partners and the press
  • June 6, 2023 : Launch of the PISCIS program from Carnon
  • June 8* 2024: Presentation of final results and mapping of French Mediterranean marine biodiversity

* June 8 is World Oceans Day

DNA(e): An innovative technique for inventorying marine biodiversity

Until now, marine fauna monitoring has mainly relied on techniques such as fishing, visual surveys by diving and underwater cameras, or acoustics. However, these techniques are invasive, even destructive, and not exhaustive, as many species are not detected because they are stealthy, too small or rare.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a new technology that makes it possible to inventory aquatic biodiversity via DNA traces taken from the environment. Indeed, all species constantly secrete fluids and cells containing DNA that can persist in the environment for several hours. These eDNA traces are used to identify all the species of a given taxonomic group present in the environment studied, using a metabarcoding technique. More information on the technology:

Our partners

This project is fully in line with the strategy of theUniversity of Montpellier, which aims to federate a scientific, institutional and economic community to respond to three major and interdependent challenges, aligned with the United Nations Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change: feed, care, protect.

Our project is at the interface of the challenges of feeding and protecting, as the sea is a source of food whose sustainable exploitation must be ensured by protection and management measures. This dual challenge is also central to the Marbec laboratory, whose main objective is to reconcile the exploitation and conservation of marine biodiversity. 

The Agence de l'Eau (Water Agency ) is a public establishment under the authority of the French Ministry of the Environment, whose mission is to restore water and aquatic environments to a state of good health. In application of the "polluter pays" principle, it collects taxes paid by all users: households, local authorities, industry and farmers, according to the volumes they withdraw and the pollution they discharge. The money collected in this way is reinvested in local authorities, industrialists, farmers and associations that are taking action to improve the quality of water and the environment: improving sanitation systems, reducing pollution by toxic substances, saving and sharing water, restoring water quality in catchments degraded by diffuse pollution (pesticides and nitrates), preserving strategic resources for drinking water, restoring the natural functioning of rivers, marine environments and degraded or threatened wetlands... The water agency acts within the framework of a 2019-2024 intervention program that sets the main priorities for action over 6 years. The agency has an annual aid capacity of around €440 million and employs 330 people.

SpyGen is a mission-driven company specializing in rare environmental DNA. The first company in the world to offer environmental DNA expertise since its creation in 2011, SpyGen develops and deploys the most effective methods possible in this field to carry out inventory and monitoring programs over time of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity of all living groups. In marine environments, studies and scientific expeditions carried out by SpyGen and its partners in the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans have demonstrated the performance of environmental DNA methods for monitoring biodiversity, particularly megafauna. In 2021, in collaboration with several international public and private partners, SpyGen launched the Vigilife multi-stakeholder platform, which aims to set up a global observatory for monitoring biodiversity using its environmental DNA technologies, and to improve our knowledge of all living things.

Since 2021, Marbec and SpyGen have set up a joint laboratory or LabCom (Diagnostic ADN environnemental des Milieux Marins: Diag-ADNe), funded by the Agence Nationale de la Research (ANR), which serves as a catalyst for the development of new tools to overcome methodological hurdles but also support a new long-term joint (industrial and academic) strategy with the aim of asserting leadership in a fast-growing field.

Andromède Océanologie is an SME founded in 2008 by Laurent Ballesta, Pierre Descamp and Florian Holon. Its objectives are to conduct all types of projects linked to the study and enhancement of the marine environment, to combine science and images, and to raise awareness of the richness and fragility of the marine environment.

Andromède Océanologie's activities revolve around three main areas of continuous innovation:

  • Images: scientific expeditions, films, books, photos with over 25,000 images by Laurent Ballesta, internationally renowned diver and underwater photographer;
  • Biological monitoring and habitat mapping. Andromède supports several networks for monitoring the ecological status of coastal waters
  • Ecological engineering: management and restoration of marine ecosystems, support, consulting, expertise...

Andromède Océanologie's latest achievements include the Medtrix mapping platform, which makes available the results of various coastal water monitoring projects, most of the French Mediterranean coastal marine biocenosis maps and continuous mapping (1:10,000) and their regular updating (Donia Expert project), coastal pressure/activity mapping (Impact project), the Donia smartphone and tablet community application to assist yachting at sea, the transplantation of 500 m² of seagrass during the offshore extension of Anse du Portier (Monaco), the Gombessa expeditions and their documentaries (Coelacanth, Antarctica, Mystery grouper, 700 sharks, exploring the Mediterranean by saturation diving...), underwater photography books (Planète Mers, Adélie : terre-mer, Une vie dans le Port de Marseille, Secrets de Méditerranée, ...), photography exhibitions...

We are Méditerranée is a 1901 non-profit environmental protection association founded by naturalist photographer Greg Lecoeur. Its main objective is the preservation of the Mediterranean Sea. Its actions aim to combine art and science to raise public awareness. "Expedition Pelagos" is a project to raise awareness and promote Mediterranean biodiversity within the Pelagos sanctuary, an invitation to reconnect with Nature. To contribute to a better knowledge and understanding of marine ecosystems, several scientific missions will be carried out during sailing expeditions. Using the prism of images, naturalist photographer Greg Lecoeur and his team present a new view of Mare Nostrum, inspiring us to take action to protect the environment on which we all depend. At the end of the campaign, a major wave of communication will be launched, with photographic reports and exhibitions, films, conferences and talks for schoolchildren.

OceanoScientific is a non-profit philanthropic association founded in Paris on January 7, 2001 and now based in Nice. It is chaired by Yvan Griboval, a sailor-explorer who was previously an ocean racer and professional journalist, as well as an organizer of internationally renowned sailing competitions, and a specialist in event marketing and communications. OceanoScientific bears witness to, raises awareness of and educates the widest possible audience, with the aim of fostering respect and love for the ocean and its biodiversity, in order to promote their preservation for the benefit of future generations; contributes to the implementation of oceanographic sailing expeditions with zero CO2 emissions, in little-explored or unexplored maritime zones, in order to increase knowledge of the Ocean, and of the causes and consequences of climate change and pollution; concentrates its efforts on helping to safeguard the genetic heritage of marine organisms threatened with extinction, particularly those in coral reefs, by promoting their development for the benefit of health and well-being, in compliance with the Nagoya Protocol; implements all actions designed to mobilize young people in their school and higher education cycle to encourage them to develop professions related to the ocean, with respect for nature and the harmony of its biodiversity; acts in accordance with the standards and recommendations of United Nations (UN) agencies and the international scientific community, in liaison with non-governmental organizations dedicated to the knowledge and preservation of the Ocean and its biodiversity.