The need for marine life observatories. The oceans have lost 90% of their top predators. Dead zones have increased across the globe. Jellyfish now are a growing fishery-but 28% of the seafood species we typically eat have disappeared. These major ocean issues have demanded immediate shifts in marine management at national and global levels, but implementation of new plans is difficult without a steady flow of crucial, basic science. Such data must include long-term monitoring of marine ecosystem health and its relation to human needs, but these ambitious data streams are impossible to maintain with typical sources of science funding. Private research and educational institutions that have a chance to implement long-term programs in basic ecosystem health evaluation and education may be able to achieve this important mission only through construction of endowment funds that specifically provide on-going support for these programs.
A definition of a Marine Life Observatory: A Marine Life Observatory generates the consistent long-term data on marine ecological health on which conservation action hinges. Long-term evaluation of ecological processes, biodiversity changes in multiple habitats under different management regimes, the balance of marine food webs (including the microbial part in any marine environment) and the dynamics and spatial use patterns of pelagics are likely to be critical long-term foci. Decade-long data sets are likely to be needed to empower management decisions and to provide unambiguous signals of long-term change, regardless of the source (climate change, over-harvesting, pollution, and others). Linking to physical data from planned Ocean Observing Systems will add beneficial physical data to the biological and ecological data to be collected by Marine Life Observatories.
Though there have been major commitments to understanding the physical parameters of seawater in physical ocean observatories, our ability to monitor and evaluate the life of the sea, including evaluation of the way ecosystems function faces severe technical challenges. We are establishing the first Marine Life Observatory at the Hopkins Marine Station to focus on long term data sets in five fundamental areas: capture, analysis and continuation of long term data sets begun up to a century ago, consistent monitoring and evaluation of diversity and abundance in the major marine coastal habitats near Hopkins, rapid evaluation of microbial diversity, efficient quantification of important ecological processes, and consistent enumeration of large pelagic organisms. Solving these problems in a well known coastal test system where new technologices can be crafted will allow future monitoring of this site for ecosystem changes due to ocean management shift or climate change, and will allow export of these approaches to other Marine Life Observatories around the world.