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biodiversity emphasis of this initiative. Finally, the establishment of marine reserves offers one of the most striking opportunities for understanding human impacts in the sea (Box 13).
It is clear that understanding of the distribution of marine organisms, and therefore their conservation and management, will require studies at unprecedented geographic scales. The marine laboratories of the world have great potential to provide the infrastructure and focus for programs in research, training, and education, and the conservation of marine biodiversity. Regional marine laboratories encompass the geographic scale of environmental and ecological gradients and bridge the disciplines of oceanography and ecology, and their region-wide data sets are fundamental to structuring comparative studies of marine biodiversity (Lasserre et al., 1994).
Marine laboratories are found in virtually every coastal country, often in relatively undisturbed locations, with ready access to many representative coastal habitats and organisms. The great majority of laboratories are tied to academic institutions or museums, with long-standing traditions in the study of marine organisms, training of scientists and managers, communication and exchange with other laboratories, and environmental impact assessment. Many marine laboratories are government-supported, with strong mandates for resource management. Their continuity of research and management sets marine laboratories apart from other institutions. They either possess or have direct access to unique, long-term data sets that form a critical baseline against which human impact may be assessed and interpreted.
Whereas marine laboratories are found within different countries or regions with different cultures, they have a common scientific culture and traditions which predispose them to cooperative programs and to networking. For example, the 27 laboratories of the Association of Marine Laboratories of the Caribbean (AMLC) have held annual meetings for almost 30 years. In 1990, with the support of the National Science Foundation and private foundations, over 20 Caribbean laboratories formed the CARICOMP (Caribbean Coastal Marine Productivity) network to conduct comparative, standardized observations of coastal ecosystem structure and function (Ogden, 1987). More recently, 80 European laboratories have joined together in the Marine Research Stations Network (MARS), and U.S. marine laboratories have formed the National Association of Marine Laboratories (NAML), as well as regional groups such as the 35-member Southern Association of Marine Laboratories (SAML) (Lasserre et al., 1994).
In order for this national research agenda to be realized, the scientific community, federal agencies, and key related programs will need to work together in a coordinated, committed fashion, tapping into and building on the mounting enthusiasm for tackling the challenges of the critical environmental issues now facing the oceans. A consequence of this realization will be that the "payoffs"