Emmett Duffy

Director of the Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network


I’ve been fascinated with the mysterious and beautiful life of the sea since I was a kid. When I was in college I realized to my delight that I could make a living studying its amazing creatures so I became a marine biologist. I was lucky enough to join the faculty of the College of William and Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science, where I had a wonderful career teaching bright students and conducting research for almost 20 years.

We’ve made tremendous strides in illuminating the depths of the ocean and learning about its inhabitants. We’ve also learned that marine life is more than a pretty face—we depend critically on healthy ocean ecosystems for food, coastal protection, and half the oxygen we breathe. But over those years I also saw ocean life steadily declining around me as dizzying human progress brought growing impacts along with it. Like many of us, I felt compelled to help protect fragile and beautiful marine ecosystems. But how? In 2013 I got the chance of a lifetime to contribute to a solution by joining the Smithsonian Institution to lead a new program dedicated to “taking the pulse of the global ocean”— discovering the hidden life of the poorly known global ocean, understanding how and why it is changing, and using that knowledge to find solutions.

With the collective energy of the Smithsonian’s many marine scientists and top leaders, and a generous gift from visionary board member Michael Tennenbaum, we launched the Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network in 2013. The network’s Marine Global Earth Observatory (MarineGEO) program has grown and developed steadily, emerging as a global leader in the science of marine biodiversity, the heart of healthy ecosystems.

Global change is sometimes sudden but often gradual, unfolding over decades. I believe the Smithsonian is the best, and perhaps only, organization in the world that can marshal the focused, long-term research commitment to take the pulse of the living ocean across its entirety and over the time span necessary to understand and respond to a changing global environment. And I am not alone—marine scientists from throughout the Smithsonian’s far-flung research units and museums, and from organizations around the world, have joined in this commitment. We are advancing together by developing standardized tools and research protocols, sharing data and best practices, developing and employing cutting edge technology, and pooling the collective brainpower of a diverse global community—scientists and citizens alike—to take the ocean’s pulse and diagnose how to keep it healthy. We hope you’ll join us.