"Tracking diversity is not just about tracking fish, or whales, or corals, but everything," Paulay said. "To date, there have been few attempts to track biodiversity broadly in the ocean."
From tiny phytoplankton and massive marine mammals to awe-inspiring sea dragons and ancient reefs, every element is important for healthy ecosystems, Paulay said.
Outside the U.S., efforts to create a marine biodiversity observation network have begun regionally in New Zealand and the European Union. The Smithsonian Institution also launched the first worldwide network of coastal field sites in 2012, a long-term project to monitor the ocean's coastal ecosystems.
Jim Carlton, a professor at Williams College in Massachusetts and director of the Maritime Studies Program of Williams College and Mystic Seaport, said the concept of a marine network is critical because elements are inter-related, from water quality and issues with fisheries to the regular arrival of new invasive species.
"It's rather amazing that in 2013, we don't have a well-established marine biodiversity network -- how could we not?" said Carlton, who is not involved with the study. "All coasts around the world are changing and we have a remarkably poor understanding about the extent of that change in many areas."
People are more dependent on oceans than they may realize, and without a coordinated network, researchers will not know how to manage these ecosystems, he said.
"The oceans are feeding hundreds of millions of people, they control the Earth's climate, 90 percent of all world goods travel on the ocean and most people in the world live within 100 miles of the sea," Carlton said. "For recreation, we rely on the fact that we can go to a beach and not get sick. We depend upon a huge amount of these resources in ways that we often don't know, but it really means maintaining the health of the ocean."
Divers have witnessed
|Contact: Gustav Paulay|
University of Florida