BIODIVMED 2023 mission: environmental DNA for a mapping of the Mediterranean marine biodiversity

Under the joint impetus of the Rhone-Mediterranean-Corsica Water Agency, the University of Montpellier (Occitania, France) and a joint laboratory funded by the ANR between the Marbec research unit and the company SpyGen, the BioDivMed 2023 Mission will carry out a synchronized and standardized inventory of living organisms on the French Mediterranean coast and the Pelagos Sanctuary through the use of environmental DNA (eDNA).

This unique and exemplary partnership for the benefit of marine biodiversity also involves the company Andromède Océanologie, the Vigilife alliance and two philanthropic associations in Nice: OceanoScientific and We are Méditerranée.

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


The objective of the BioDivMed Mission? To determine and better understand the occurrences of fish, crustacean and marine mammal species and then establish a true fine-scale mapping of marine biodiversity. To do this, environmental DNA (eDNA) technology will be used to enable a standardized inventory of the Mediterranean conducted in a synchronized manner 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 allows the inventory of aquatic biodiversity via the DNA traces left by species in their environment. The filtration and analysis of eDNA allows the detection of numerous species and therefore has a strong potential to develop a new generation of indicators of the health of marine waters under human impact or protection measures.

Never before has such a synchronized and standardized inventory of marine biodiversity been undertaken on French territory.

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 which is implemented on behalf of the Water Agency by Andromeda Oceanology;
  • PIAF, study of the marine life of soft and sandy substrates, PIAF is coordinated by the University of Montpellier;
  • TheOceanoScientific Expedition which will follow the Mediterranean coast from the Italian border to the Spanish border to collect eDNA samples; to inform and raise awareness about the issues related to 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 association We are Méditerranée, whose ambition is to study the marine life in the pelagic zone, in particular that of the Pelagos sanctuary, a marine protected area (Aspim) aiming to protect marine mammals in a triangle including the French and Italian continents and including Corsica at its summit.

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


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 the final results and a map of the French Mediterranean marine biodiversity
* June 8 is World Oceans Day


Until now, the monitoring of marine fauna has mainly been done by techniques such as fishing, visual surveys by diving and underwater cameras, or acoustics. However, these techniques are invasive or 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 collected in the environment. Indeed, all species permanently secrete fluids and cells that contain 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 by a metabarcoding technique. More information on the technology:


This project is fully in line with the University of Montpellier ‘s strategy to federate a scientific, institutional and economic community to address three major and interrelated challenges aligned with the United Nations 2030 Agenda 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, the sea being a source of food whose sustainable exploitation must be ensured by protection and management measures. This double challenge is also central for the Marbec laboratory whose main objective is to reconcile exploitation and conservation of marine biodiversity.

The Water Agency is a public establishment of the State under the supervision of the Ministry of the Environment, whose mission is to restore the good status of water and aquatic environments. In application of the polluter-pays principle, it collects tax charges paid by all users: households, local authorities, industrialists, 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 act 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 an intervention program 2019-2024 that sets the main priorities for action for 6 years. The agency has an annual aid capacity of about 440 M€ and employs 330 people.

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

Since 2021, Marbec and SpyGen have set up a joint laboratory or LabCom (Environmental DNA Diagnosis of Marine Environments: Diag-ADNe), funded by the French National Agency for Research (ANR) Research, which serves as a catalyst for the development of new tools to remove methodological barriers but also to support a new long-term joint (industrial and academic) strategy with the aim of asserting leadership in a rapidly growing field.

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

Andromeda Oceanology’s activities are based on three main areas with permanent innovation:

  • The image: scientific expeditions, films, books, photos with more than 25 000 pictures of Laurent Ballesta, diver and underwater photographer internationally recognized;
  • Biological monitoring and habitat mapping. Andromeda is responsible for several networks for monitoring the ecological status of coastal waters
  • Engineering in ecology: management and restoration of marine ecosystems, support, advice, expertise.

Among the latest achievements of Andromeda Oceanology, we count for example the cartographic platform Medtrix which makes available the results of various coastal water monitoring projects, most of the cartographies of the French Mediterranean coastal marine biocenoses and the continuous cartography (1:10 000) and their regular update (Donia Expert project), the cartography of coastal pressures/activities (Impact project), the Donia smartphone and tablet community application to help with boating at sea, the transplantation of 500 m² of seagrass during the extension of the Portier Cove (Monaco), the Gombessa expeditions and their documentaries (Coelacanth, Antarctica, Mystery grouper, 700 sharks, the exploration of the Mediterranean Sea by saturation diving…), books of underwater photography (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 the naturalist photographer Greg Lecoeur. Its main objective is the preservation of the Mediterranean Sea. The actions aim to combine art and science in a desire to raise awareness of the general public. The “Pelagos Expedition” is a project to raise awareness and promote the Mediterranean biodiversity within the Pelagos sanctuary, an invitation to reconnect with Nature. In order 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 the image, the naturalist photographer Greg Lecoeur and his team present us with a new look at Mare Nostrum to give us the desire to act and protect our environment on which we all depend. At the end, a great wave of communication will be launched through reports and photographic exhibitions, films, conferences and interventions with schools.

OceanoScientific is a philanthropic association of general interest created in Paris on January 7th 2001 and now based in Nice. It is chaired by Yvan Griboval, sailor-explorer after having been an ocean racer and professional journalist, as well as an organizer of sailing competitions of international notoriety, and also a specialist in marketing and event communication. OceanoScientific testifies, sensitizes and educates the largest public with the aim of making respect and love the ocean and its biodiversity to support their preservation for the benefit of the future generations; contributes to the implementation of oceanographic expeditions to the sail without rejection of CO2 in maritime zones little or not explored to increase the knowledge of the Ocean, the causes and the consequences of the climatic disturbance and the pollution; concentrates its efforts to participate in the safeguarding of the genetic heritage of marine organisms threatened with extinction, in particular those of the coral reefs, by promoting their development for the benefit of health and well-being in compliance with the Nagoya Protocol; implements all actions intended to mobilize young people in their school and higher education cycle to encourage them to develop professions related to the ocean, in respect of nature and the harmony of its biodiversity; acts in accordance with the standards and recommendations of the United Nations (UN) agencies and the international scientific community, in connection with non-governmental organizations dedicated to the knowledge and preservation of the Ocean and its biodiversity.

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