Our fragile coastal and marine ecosystems face increasing threats from human activities, climate change and other factors. To mitigate and adapt to such threats, we need a fuller, more integrated, picture of how the biodiversity within these ecosystems may be changing, especially since marine biodiversity is a key indicator of ocean health and critical to sustaining natural resources such as fisheries.
To begin building this picture, the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System is partnering with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, NASA, and the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to initiate the first U.S. network to monitor marine biodiversity at scales ranging from microbes to whales. Three pilot networks will provide a prototype of how a national marine biodiversity observation network could be developed. Such a network would serve as a marine resource management tool to conserve existing biodiversity and enhance U.S. biosecurity against threats such as invasive species and infectious agents.
Selected from 19 proposals, the three pilot networks are planned at four locations: the Florida Keys NOAA National Marine Sanctuary, the Monterey Bay NOAA National Marine Sanctuary; Santa Barbara and the NOAA Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary ; and on the continental shelf in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. The pilots will occur in different marine environments and integrate existing observations ranging from satellite observations to DNA sampling. In addition, new observations will fill current data gaps.
The networks will integrate data on large-scale sea-surface conditions observed by NOAA, NASA and U.S. Geological Survey satellites with observations made in the ocean and the laboratory. They will build partnerships with existing long-term biodiversity monitoring efforts, explore innovative uses of new in situ observations and genomic techniques, and improve access to integrated biodiversity data.
“NOAA’s marine sanctuaries are ideal settings to test and evaluate a biodiversity network prototype,” said NOAA’s Zdenka Willis, director of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System. “These areas encompass a wide range of marine environments as well as nearby coastal communities that depend on the ocean for business and recreation. By linking federal and non-federal partners, we hope this network will help us better understand these ecosystems and serve to inform emergency response systems for environmental threats.”
“A functioning marine biodiversity observation network will provide a unique tool for exploring the poorly known and complex interactions among marine species, as well as the physical environment they depend on,” said John McDonough, Acting Director of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. “We are extremely pleased to participate in the initiation of this effort, and hope to see it expand into new areas over the coming years.”
The Florida Keys and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries, both encompassing deep sea, continental shelves, estuaries, coral reefs and other marine environments, will be the focus of one of the demonstration projects, led by Dr. Frank Muller-Karger, of the University of South Florida.
Dr. Robert Miller, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, leads another demonstration project in the Santa Barbara Channel, including in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to an extremely rich array of marine species and is considered an ecologically significant place with tremendous biodiversity.
Dr. Katrin Iken, of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, is leading the research in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea, which will build on recent efforts to extend much-needed long-term monitoring data and fill gaps in coverage. The Arctic is experiencing the most dramatic temperature increases taking place in the ocean, leading to significant changes in marine ecosystem structure and function. The Shell Oil Company is contributing a significant portion of funds for the Arctic project.
The collaborative effort supports the U.S. National Ocean Policy to “protect, maintain, and restore the health and biological diversity of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources.” An integrated picture of what is happening to marine biodiversity enhances the ability of policymakers and natural resource managers to devise effective strategies to address ecosystem threats.
The pilot network also represents a major contribution to the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON), which is working to establish a global platform for integrating data focused on biodiversity change at the genetic, species and ecosystems levels. Through GEO BON, approximately 100 governmental and other organizations are working to organize and improve terrestrial, freshwater and marine biodiversity observations globally and to make biodiversity data, information and forecasts more accessible to policymakers and a broad range of other users. The new network is the first U.S. regional contribution to GEO BON and the first marine network in the system.
The cost will be approximately $17 million over the next five years, subject to the availability of funds. The pilot network is sponsored under the National Oceanographic Partnership Program, which facilitates joint funding of projects of mutual interest to different institutions in an effort to avoid duplication of research efforts.