On 1 December 2022, the Secretariat of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) successfully concluded the inception workshop of its Sustainable Seabed Knowledge Initiative (SSKI) with the adoption of a clear roadmap of activities to achieve tangible outputs for sustainably advancing the understanding of biodiversity in the deep ocean by 2025. The workshop, organized in collaboration with the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF) of the Republic of Korea, took place from 29 November to 1 December 2022 at the National Marine Biodiversity Institute of Korea (MABIK) in Seocheon, Korea.
Formally launched at the 2022 United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, SSKI aims to promote a global knowledge-sharing platform for generating, standardizing and sharing deep-sea biodiversity data and expertise to support environmental management in the international seabed area (the Area).
The inception workshop aimed to discuss fundamental elements relating to the implementation and monitoring of the initiative, the identification of relevant partners and possible collaborations with existing relevant international or regional programmes and projects to maximize the value of SSKI in building advanced institutional capacity in deep-sea taxonomy and enabling best practices for deep-sea biodiversity assessment and monitoring. Key activities and indicators of success were validated, such as leveraging taxonomic identifications and increasing the number of described deep-sea species by at least one thousand (1,000) by 2030. Participants included over 50 scientists, representatives of ISA exploration contractors, governments and regional organizations from 24 different countries, attending in person or remotely.
Opening the event, the Secretary-General of ISA, H.E. Mr. Michael Lodge, highlighted the importance of standardizing and innovating methodologies for biodiversity assessment in the Area, including taxonomic identification and description, as one of the top research priorities recognized in ISA’s Action plan in support of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science. “Since 2013, ISA has organized a series of workshops on deep-sea taxonomic standardization, which have translated into improved data standardization and quality. This is reflected in the ISA DeepData database, which currently hosts nearly 60,000 species occurrence records.”
“As we progress in our core work of developing an effective regulatory framework for all activities in the Area, improved species knowledge and classification are critical to generating the data and information on marine biodiversity necessary to support our work. Better tools and data quality, as indicated in the SSKI proposal, will help to strengthen the scientific basis for programmes to monitor impacts on the marine environment and management measures adopted under regional environmental management plans,” Mr. Lodge said.
Addressing the participants, Mr. Song Myeong-dal, Deputy Minister for the Marine Policy Office at the MOF, emphasized the commitment of the Republic of Korea to the work of ISA and its determination to support ISA’s mandate to promote and encourage marine scientific research in the Area, particularly through the programmatic activities carried out to advance improved deep-sea taxonomy knowledge and methodologies. Referring to the letter of cooperation signed on 24 November between the MOF and the ISA Secretariat, Mr. Myeong-dal commanded the joint engagement to further increase scientific knowledge of deep-sea ecosystems in the Area and disseminate the results of this research when available. “I hope this workshop will serve as a meaningful opportunity to build a global network through valuable discussions to enhance knowledge of deep-sea ecosystems and strengthen research capabilities,” Mr. Myeong-dal said.
Mr. Fredrik Ekfeldt, Minister Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission of the European Union in the Republic of Korea, noted that SSKI was a timely and necessary initiative and that the European Commission was a proud contributor to its first phase.
“Improving knowledge of seabed ecosystems in the Area is of paramount importance for the successful implementation of European Union’s political priorities as it is the necessary step to establish a solid baseline for the protection of [deep-sea] ecosystems,” Mr. Ekfeldt said.
Reflecting on the potential offered by the unique platform created by SSKI, Dr. Wan-hyun Choi, President of MABIK, noted that effective collaboration across disciplines is necessary to successfully increase global knowledge of deep-sea biodiversity. “MABIK is pleased to join SSKI as a key partner and host this important workshop. I am confident that the collaborative framework established under SSKI […] will bring forth transformative change in our understanding of deep-sea biodiversity,” Mr. Choi said.
During the workshop, participants identified several existing scientific initiatives and research platforms from which SSKI can build and strengthen partnerships between ISA contractors and scientific experts to unlock biodiversity data from available deep-sea samples. The workshop participants also recognized the need to raise awareness of taxonomy as a modern field of the science underpinning biodiversity knowledge. Several activities were proposed to inform multiple stakeholders, particularly policymakers and managers, about the value chain of biodiversity data and information and the scientific requirements to achieve global goals for biodiversity conservation.
As to the way forward, participants identified steps to complement species identifications and descriptions with knowledge of ecosystem functions and services for an ecosystem-based approach to designing and implementing effective environmental management measures.
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