FAQs

WHY DOES HEALTHY MARINE LIFE MATTER?

Life in the oceans provides food, livelihoods, protection from hazards, and inspiration to people throughout the world. The marine fisheries sector alone produced an estimated value of $80 billion USD in 2008, supported more than 35 million jobs, and currently feeds around a billion people on a daily basis.

But marine ecosystems are being transformed rapidly around the globe, and the key drivers of change and their consequences remain poorly understood. This uncertainty stems mainly from lack of systematic study of the ocean’s diverse marine life, especially in the coastal zone. Without hard data, our ability to sustain marine ecosystems, and their ability to sustain us, is compromised.

WHAT ARE MARINEGEO AND TMON?

Marine Global Earth Observatories (MarineGEO) is an ambitious collaborative research program that seeks to answer the overarching question: How can we maintain resilient coastal ecosystems? MarineGEO is the first and only network of worldwide coastal observation and research sites to focus on understanding changes at the land-sea interface, where marine life is most abundant and human effects and demands on it are highest.

The Smithsonian Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network (TMON) directs and coordinates the research efforts of the growing network of MarineGEO sites. TMON’s initial core research sites are the Smithsonian’s existing marine research stations.

WHY THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION?

The Smithsonian’s expertise in biodiversity—the living engine that sustains functioning ecosystems worldwide—is unique. Our active and diverse group of world-class marine researchers—biologists, ecologists, chemists, geologists, anthropologists and paleobiologists—are all working to understand complex marine and coastal ecosystems.

The MarineGEO initiative brings these diverse specialists together with partners in academia, government agencies, and other organizations. Coordinated experiments, long-term observations, and cutting-edge research will document marine life and help us understand how it is changing and what these changes will mean.More

HOW IS THIS INITIATIVE UNIQUE?

Our dependence on the ocean, and its accelerating rate of environmental change, are major reasons for the growing international investment in ocean observing systems. The last decade produced significant innovations in understanding ocean currents, trends in ocean temperature and thermal structure, changing sea levels, and the ocean’s key role in Earth’s climate system. Yet, surprisingly, no comparable effort has been dedicated to systematic study of biodiversity and its key role in functioning marine ecosystems.

This initiative complements existing ocean observing efforts but fills a critical void with its unique focus on biodiversity and the factors that create resilience to stressors, the coastal zone where people and biodiversity are concentrated, and use of rigorous, standardized approaches globally.

WHAT SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS DOES THE INITIATIVE ADDRESS?

The overarching question uniting our research is:

How can we maintain resilient coastal ecosystems?

The heart of ecosystem resilience is biodiversity—the interconnected web of living organisms, from microbes to large predators. Understanding resilience requires studying what factors control the distribution of species, how they respond to change, and how they affect ecosystem processes like productivity, nutrient cycling, waste processing, and carbon storage.

WHAT IS MARINEGEO STUDYING?

Target ecosystems include seabed communities in shallow coastal waters where people and biodiversity interact most: seagrass beds, marshes, mangrove forests, coral reefs, and shellfish beds. The MarineGEO research plan integrates repeated standardized physical and biological observations, coordinated experiments, and quantitative empirical modeling to take the pulse and vital signs of coastal ocean life.

WHERE ARE THE CURRENT SITES?

The goal of TMON is to establish, through partnerships, a strategic network of MarineGEO sites extending from the poles to the tropics and spanning the world’s major ocean basins. We are investigating opportunities for potential site partnerships with organizations that operate in diverse marine environments around the world, and we encourage interested organizations to contact us. Current locations and sites under development can be found here.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF PARTNERS?

Marine Global Earth Observatories (MarineGEO) is a growing global partnership between the Smithsonian and a diverse set of collaborators. More information can be found here.

HOW CAN MY INSTITUTION BECOME A PARTNER IN MARINEGEO?

More information on partnership opportunities can be found here.

HOW CAN I SUPPORT THIS PROJECT?

The generosity of Michael and Suzanne Tennenbaum launched the Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network, the central infrastructure, vision, and core research sites located at theSmithsonian’s existing marine research facilities.

Now that this project is “in the water,” we seek funds and partners to support innovative research, fellowships, top project positions, and new sites from the tropics to the polar oceans. To make a gift at any level, please visit here.