Researchers at eight institutions involved in a study have proposed a blueprint for establishing a cooperative marine biodiversity observation network to monitor trends in marine ecosystem health and the distribution and abundance of oceanic life, the University of Florida reported Wednesday.
Such a network would allow scientists to follow and predict ecosystem changes and respond to environmental pressures, study co-author Gustav Paulay, invertebrate zoology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, said.
"Biodiversity is important not only because it's what the natural world is about, but also because tracking it tells you how healthy things are," Paulay said. "As an indicator of ecosystem health and resilience, biodiversity is key for sustaining oceans that face accelerating environmental change."
A national marine biodiversity observation network could be established using existing technology within five years with appropriate funding and collaboration, scientists said.
"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."
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, said Jim Carlton, a professor at Williams College in Massachusetts and director of the Maritime Studies Program of Williams College and Mystic Seaport.
"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."
The institutions involved in the study included the College of William and Mary, the University of Kansas, the University of Rhode Island, the University of California, Davis, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.