The Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ), founded in 1999, promotes marine knowledge creation and excellence through sound interdisciplinary research about the ocean, seas, coasts and tidal estuaries. Since 2012, the LifeWatch team at VLIZ has processed and digitized over 100 historical biodiversity datasets that were created by, or collected in close collaboration with, Belgian marine scientists.
Over the last year, 90 of these datasets were further refined to become part of the European Ocean Biodiversity Information System (EurOBIS). EurOBIS is an important building block of the LifeWatch Species Information Backbone, a central contribution from LifeWatch Flanders to LifeWatch ERIC, the purpose of which is to centralise biodiversity data and fill the gaps in our knowledge.
Although these data refer to observations made in the twentieth century, investing time in making them available through online systems is highly valuable, as looking at the past will help us to better understand the future. Data archaeology fills in a historical data gap and provides the necessary baseline information for inter alia species distribution and climate change models.
The 90 newly-available datasets mainly cover the North Sea and provide the historical context for present observations, thereby facilitating the process of setting reference conditions for monitoring and management activities in this area. They comprise 305,529 occurrence records of 3,758 different taxa from small meiofauna as well as bigger macrobenthos communities, with the earliest occurrence record dating back to 1903.
The datasets conform to FAIR data principles, ensuring the findability, accessibility, interoperability and reusability of the (meta)data, and have been formatted to the internationally accepted DarwinCore format (DwC), and BODC vocabularies. They are available through the Belgian LifeWatch e-Lab, the EMODnet Biology project (through its Data Catalogue, Data Download Toolbox, web services and IPT), the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS) and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).