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High school students join UNESCO eDNA campaign in Everglades National Park

Friday, 7 April 2023
access_time 2 min read
High school students join UNESCO environmental DNA sampling in Everglades National Park, United States. © NPS Photos by Federico Acevedo

Students from Senior High School in Miami, Florida joined scientists from Everglades National Park World Heritage site to participate in UNESCO's Environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling campaign, as part of a global effort to sample and record marine biodiversity across 25 marine World Heritage Sites.

On 7 April 2023, under a warm Florida sun and a pleasant breeze, six students aged 15-17-year-old students boarded two boats to visit five sampling sites at Everglades National Park where they used water filters to collect the environmental DNA for sampling. The crystal-clear waters of the World Heritage area, that is dotted with mangrove islands, made for relatively quick sampling through the filters. The sampling expedition was guided by the site’s local science experts.

"The UNESCO environmental DNA project inspires students through hands-on citizen science experiences while contributing to a global effort to better understand how climate change affects marine biodiversity."

Environmental DNA is an innovative scientific method that can be used to monitor and assess the biodiversity of the ocean without the need to extract organisms from their environment. A single liter of water can contain the genetic material of hundreds of species and can help determine the richness of the area's biodiversity. 

The UNESCO environmental DNA Expedition initiative is being rolled out across 25 marine World Heritage sites between September 2022 and April 2023. The eDNA data is expected to provide a one-off snapshot of biodiversity richness across marine World Heritage sites, particularly for fish species.

By combining the resulting biodiversity data with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) heat scenario projections, the initiative aims to provide a first glimpse of potential geographic and distribution shifts of fish species as a result of climate change which then in turn can inform conservation decision-making.

Resulting data will be available at the UNESCO Ocean Biodiversity Information System, the world’s largest open science marine species database. Final results are expected to be available in Spring 2024.

The UNESCO eDNA initiative is a joint collaboration between the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the World Heritage Centre. It is made possible with the support of the Government of Flanders (Kingdom of Belgium) and implemented in the context of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).

About Everglades National Park World Heritage

Everglades National Park is a sanctuary for birds and reptiles and home to marine animals such as sea turtles, crocodiles, manatees, dolphins, sawfish, and goliath grouper. Some of these species are on the IUCN Red List vulnerable and endangered species. It is the largest designated sub-tropical wilderness reserve on the North American continent. The site received World Heritage status in 1979 and was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2010.