The first step in building a database of biodiversity for a specific area or a group of organisms is to map their distribution. Historically this was done by field survey. AIMS pioneered the collection of baseline data on the GBR and the tropical coast with biodiversity surveys of fish, corals, mangroves and planktonic communities.

In the past 20 years our ability to collect biodiversity information from marine habitats has been revolutionised by Geographic Information System (GIS) applications and sophisticated mapping equipment. GIS coverage and techniques such as hypersprectral mapping allow areas of interest to be targeted more precisely and then explored using equipment that can travel underwater. Video towed at depth behind a boat or attached to a robotic vehicle is commonly used for recording habitat and biodiversity data from deep water and has produced some spectacular discoveries from Australia's marine parks.

Biodiversity baseline data is continually expanding into new habitats and new groups of organisms such as the microbial community. These developments allow greater confidence in the allocation of marine reserves and a better understanding of the functional processes that maintain healthy ecosystems.