Biological diversity, or biodiversity, represents the variety of life on Earth, encompassing variation at all levels, from genes to species to ecosystems. Research demonstrates that maintaining coastal and marine biodiversity is critical for sustained human and ecosystem health in a globally changing environment.

MBON is interested in all levels of diversity.

MBON is interested in all levels of diversity, as depicted in this diagram. The lower level includes habitat types within a region; the middle level includes species diversity; and the upper level includes genetic diversity within species (Credit: Palumbi et al.).

Biodiversity is critical from the perspective of ecosystem services such as food, oxygen, and socio-economic benefits that support human livelihoods. The Census of Marine Life, which concluded in 2010, greatly enhanced our understanding of the status of marine biodiversity. It also made clear the importance of clear-cut, systematic and sustainable approaches to observing and monitoring biodiversity across different levels and at a national scale.

In May 2010, NOAA co-sponsored – with six other federal agencies and the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) – a workshop of experts to develop a plan and recommendations for attaining an operational marine biodiversity observation network (MBON) for the nation. The full workshop report is available on the NOPP website or as a PDF.

In Fall 2014, NOAA, NASA, and BOEM – on behalf of the NOPP – launched three projects to demonstrate how an MBON could be developed. U.S. IOOS, NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries partnered with NASA, BOEM and others on this effort.

During the demonstration phase, the MBON team:

  • Created a website to share project background and updates, 
  • Established an MBON Data Portal where users can search and download real-time, delayed-mode, and historical data for in situ and remotely-sensed physical, chemical, and biological observations; compare datasets across regions and disciplines; generate and share custom data views; link to information about protocols, methods and best practices for biological observing; and access a suite of tools developed with a range of IOOS and MBON partners, and
  • Partnered with NOAA’s Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) and National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) to develop and routinely generate MBON Seascapes products and make them available on NOAA CoastWatch. Derived from dynamic fields of satellite and modelled data, Seascapes are classified and used as a biogeographical framework to describe dynamic, changing ocean habitats for MBON and other applications. Seascapes provide information about the quality and extent of different oceanographic habitats or features and can be used to assess and predict the different planktonic and fisheries communities that reside within seascapes. Current Seascapes products include monthly and 8-day time steps with a spatial resolution of 1/20th of degree (~ 5 km). High resolution (1 km) case studies are planned on a case by case basis as through cooperation with US and global MBON partners.

MBON partners in the U.S. actively contribute to development of a global MBON and a global biological observing capability, working closely with the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network, the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), and the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), among others. The three groups signed a letter of agreement in Fall 2016 committing to coordination of a global MBON.

Smithsonian is also a key MBON partner through leadership of the Marine Global Earth Observatory (MarineGEO). Marine GEO field sites include: the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center on the Chesapeake Bay; the Smithsonian’s Indian River Lagoon, Fort Pierce, FL; Carrie Bow Cay in Belize; the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama located at Bocas Del Toro on the Caribbean and the Naos station on the Pacific Ocean. MarineGEO Hawaiʻi on Kaneʻohe Bay Oahu was established by the Smithsonian Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Developing MBON: Demonstration Projects and Partnerships

MBON logo

In October 2014, NOAA, NASA, and the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) initiated the first U.S. network to monitor marine biodiversity for species ranging from microbes to whales. The US Marine Biodiversity Observation Network, or US MBON, was intended as a follow on to the Census of Marine Life.

From 2014-2018, three demonstration projects collaborated to provide a prototype of how a US MBON could be developed. Selected through a National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) competitive process, the projects worked in multiple geographic areas (Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Santa Barbara Channel and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and Alaska’s Chukchi Sea) to integrate data on large-scale sea-surface conditions with biological observations; integrate in situ with satellite data; explore use of new methods and technologies such as automated image processing and environmental DNA, and improve access to integrated biodiversity data.

Current U.S. MBON Collaborations

Current U.S. MBON Collaborations

In October 2019, the US MBON government sponsors (U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System/US IOOS, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/NOAA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration/NASA, Office of Naval Research/ONR and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management/BOEM) awarded six new three-year U.S. MBON projects to continue development of the Network and to expand geographic coverage.