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Archipiélago de Revillagigedo in Mexico joins the UNESCO environmental DNA Expeditions

Sunday, 16 April 2023
access_time 3 min read
Scientists and rangers participate in environmental DNA sampling in Archipiélago de Revillagigedo, Mexico. © Nathaniel Rivera Reyes

Scientists and rangers from the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (CONANP) undertook an expedition to the Archipiélago de Revillagigedo World Heritage site in Mexico to collect marine baseline information, including environmental DNA (eDNA) samples as part of the eDNA sampling campaigns currently piloted by UNESCO across 25 marine World Heritage sites.

From 16 to 26 April 2023, eDNA samples were collected near the four remote islands that make up the Archipiélago de Revillagigedo World Heritage area, with a view of better understanding ocean biodiversity and the effects of climate change.

The scientists and rangers collected water samples at 5 different locations across the UNESCO World Heritage site and filtered genetic material of species with the help of eDNA citizen-science sampling protocols and equipment provided by UNESCO. Preservation liquid was subsequently added to the samples to fix the eDNA and make them ready to ship to a specialized lab for analysis, alongside other eDNA samples from around the world. Environmental DNA could become a valuable tool for long-term monitoring of the archipelago’s biodiversity since it allows to obtain continuous and comparable data over time, which is fundamental to understand the dynamics of ecosystems and evaluate the impact of human activities.

“When we study reef-dwelling species while diving we are limited by the depth and size of the organisms we can see. Yet through the use of eDNA we can increase our understanding of species richness that live in an area without the need to actually see them.”

“As site managers we are excited to participate in this UNESCO-led initiative as part of our commitment to increase scientific knowledge. Research is fundamental to the management and conservation of MPAs, as it not only generates sound knowledge about the biodiversity and habitats to be protected, but also about the effectiveness of management activities and the impacts of the factors that threaten the values and objects of conservation. Thus, the adequate management of MPAs must be based on scientific knowledge of the ecosystems, their components (species and communities) and the processes that sustain them."

"The main strategy of the National Park's management is to participate in innovative and cutting-edge actions to understand the ecosystems, their composition and behaviour, and thus manage resources in a more sustainable way."

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

The UNESCO environmental DNA Expedition initiative is being rolled out across 25 marine UNESCO 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.

The eDNA Expeditions’ resulting data will be made publicly available through 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 the Archipiélago de Revillagigedo World Heritage Site (Mexico)

Archipiélago de Revillagigedo was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2016. Located in the eastern Pacific Ocean, the island group is part of a submerged mountain range of which the four islands represent the peaks of volcanoes emerging above sea level. The islands provide critical habitat for a range of wildlife and are of particular importance for seabirds. The surrounding waters are recognised as important stepping-stones and stop overs for wide ranging species. The property harbours abundant populations of sharks, rays, large pelagic fish, Humpback Whales, turtles and manta rays; a concentration of wildlife that attracts recreational divers from around the world.

Sunday, 16 April 2023
access_time 3 min read