A comprehensive marine biodiversity observation network could be established with modest funding within five years, according to an expert assessment published in the May 2013 issue of BioScience.
Such a network would fill major gaps in scientists’ understanding of the global distribution of marine organisms, which are under unprecedented threat from climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, and overfishing. The network would help resolve conflicts over ocean management and identify threats such as invasions by exotic species before they became obvious, according to the authors of the assessment, who were led by J. Emmett Duffy of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
Many of the components of a marine biodiversity observation network already exist, although much could be done to incentivize cooperation, the assessment notes. Far more is known about shallow waters than deeper waters. The key need is to relate observations of biodiversity to prevailing environmental conditions. Expanding automation of acoustic and imaging technology would help, as would digitizing historical records.
The European Union and New Zealand have already built regional data systems, but existing data about U.S. waters are not so readily available. The authors of the BioScience article suggest that the United States’ many interests in the oceans over a wide area mean it has a special obligation to monitor them and to safeguard the services they supply. A national marine biodiversity observation network could feature sites established along both the East and West US coasts as well as nodes specializing in deep-sea observations and coral reefs.