determining the processes that contribute to these fundamental changes and for developing a predictive understanding that will allow preservation and restoration of the ocean's biodiversity. The dual issues of change and loss of marine biodiversity are not trivial and have unified marine scientists—oceanographers, ecologists, and taxonomists—in a common cause.

National and international social and economic implications of accelerating change bear directly on interrelated subjects, such as:

  • the ocean's capacity to sustain economically significant fisheries,
  • the quality of bays and estuaries as nurseries for important stocks,
  • the loss of species with important potential for biomedical products,
  • the increasingly chronic nature of blooms of toxic algae,
  • the recreational value of ocean margins, and
  • the aesthetic value of marine environments that remain close to their aboriginal state.

Marine biological diversity is changing, and it does matter.

This document identifies the urgent need for a national research program on the biological diversity of marine systems. In this research plan, biodiversity is defined as the collection of genomes, species, and ecosystems occurring in a geographically defined region. This agenda focuses on a novel program where ecological and oceanographic research would be integrated at all relevant spatial scales, from local to regional, and over appropriate time scales for distinguishing changes in biodiversity due to effects of human activities from natural phenomena. Integral to this initiative are taxonomy (here defined as the descriptive branch of the larger field of systematics) for documenting the magnitude and patterns of biodiversity, and predictive models for hypothesis development, testing, and extrapolation, and for developing guidelines for management and conservation.

The Depth and Breadth of Underdescribed Marine Biodiversity

"The future historians of science may well find that a crisis that was upon us at the end of the 20th century was the extinction of the systematist, the extinction of the naturalist, the extinction of the biogeographer—those who would tell the tales of the potential demise of global marine diversity."

Carlton (1993, pg. 507)

There are many exciting recent discoveries of previously unknown marine organisms that form critical links in ecosystem function. These discoveries often were facilitated by the development of new sampling and analytical techniques and emphasize a science that has been exploring just the periphery of the biodiversity frontier in the oceans. Examples include the following:

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