Breakout Session 20: Attaining an Operational Biodiversity Observing Network: Transforming Recommendations to Action

Breakout Session

20. Attaining an Operational Marine Biodiversity Observing Network: Transforming Recommendations to Action

 Click HERE to read the Attaining an Operational Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (BON) Synthesis Report

 Coordinator: Hilary Goodwin, National Oceanographic Partnership Program, Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Moderator: Reginald Beach, Senior Scientist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


1. J. Emmett Duffy, Professor of Marine Science, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
2. Heidi Sosik, Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
3. Jerry Miller
, Senior Policy Analyst, Office of Science and Technology Policy


With the accelerating loss of biodiversity brought on by global climate change, ocean acidification and man’s activities, it is increasingly urgent to monitor the status and trends of marine biodiversity through the implementation of an operational national marine Biodiversity Observing Network (BON).

A growing body of experimental research suggests that biodiversity might be a key “master variable” useful for determining the health and resiliency of ecosystems and the success of management efforts and objectives. In the past, measuring diversity in the ocean has posed logistical challenges and the paucity of long-term records has hampered our ability to better understand exactly how biodiversity in the ocean responds to human activities. Currently, new technology and well-developed techniques allow for the quantifying of marine diversity at all levels and these techniques should be the first steps towards establishing a national marine BON. Many marine habitats are under threat from climate change, pollution, overfishing, acidification and invasive species.  Developing an observing network for biodiversity so that we can understand the magnitude of these effects and predict their consequences should be a national priority.

To begin to address this priority, a panel of marine experts will lead this session in a discussion of the recommendations from the Attaining Operational Marine Biodiversity Observations Workshop held in Washington, DC from 24-27 May 2010 at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. The three-day workshop, which included 35 participants and seven federal sponsors, focused on priorities for taxonomic range and resolution, choice of target habitats, and identification of appropriate methodologies. A central goal was to design an operational BON concept that integrates observations across the hierarchical levels of biodiversity to remotely sensed habitat-level diversity. Broader community input on the workshop recommendations was incorporated through an online forum on the National Oceanographic Partnership Program website ( from July through November 2010. Recommendations from the workshop, among others, include the need to:

  • establish one or more “Biodiversity Observation Headquarters” to coordinate sample processing, data management, and practical training, and
  • coordinate biodiversity sampling across taxa, hierarchical levels, and methods in order to serve as a standard for an integrated marine BON.

In order to move the concept of a BON forward, session participants will build on the discussed recommendations by proposing additional methods and strategies and determining which federal entities should lead this BON effort. Observations from a BON would serve to establish quantitative relationships between biodiversity thresholds and ecosystem health in order to assess the state of the marine environment and system changes. A coordinated and integrated BON is especially critical to achieve goals of data interoperability and access, standardized sampling approaches, and coordinated federal investment. The input from the session will also serve as a launching point for both an implementation strategy and future workshops in an effort to develop an operational marine BON.

Goal: To discuss recommendations from the Attaining Operational Marine Biodiversity Observations Workshop, explore additional recommendations, and determine implementation strategies to create a national marine Biodiversity Observing Network (BON).


  • To gain stakeholder and community input on an implementation strategy for a national marine BON
  • Disseminate the recommendations from the Attaining Operational Marine Biodiversity Observations Workshop to the Obama administration, Congress, federal agencies, and colleges and universities.
  • Define necessary steps to implement the BON recommendations and the resulting responsible parties.

Resulting Recommendations: 

DRAFT  RECOMMENDATIONS – Prepared by breakout groups and subject to review. These recommendations are the result of group processes and do not necessarily represent that positions of NCSE, which served as the enabler of the process that generated the recommendations.

Task 1.  Given marine biodiversity’s central role in ocean health and ecosystem services, the National Ocean Council (NOC) should establish a national committee on marine biodiversity to set national goals and objectives.

Task 2.  The National Ocean Council (NOC) should endorse and implement a national marine biodiversity observing network (BON) to support the national ocean priorities (see Attaining an Operational Marine Biodiversity Observation Network Synthesis Report, final report available February 2011 at

Task 3. Federal agencies should support demonstration projects for a national marine BON, through an interagency mechanism such as the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP).

Task 4. Entities overseeing ocean observing systems such as the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) should incorporate biodiversity observations.

Task 5. Federal agencies with ocean-related missions should support the principle of data sharing. An early priority in establishing a marine BON is to establish a mechanism to encourage data sharing among agencies and to establish standardized data policies.  Data standards, interoperability and accessibility for physical and chemical data are well established; the same level of standards, interoperability and accessibility should be established for biodiversity observations, enabling their incorporation in global climate change analysis and modeling.

Task 6. Congress should appropriate funding for the Smithsonian Institution to establish a national biodiversity sorting and processing headquarters.

Task 7. The State Department should support the establishment of an operational marine biodiversity observing network (BON) and coordinate with similar international efforts, and ensure incorporation in the International Mechanism of Scientific Expertise on Biodiversity (IMoSEB) and Global Earth Observing BON (GEO BON).

Task 8. The National Ocean Council (NOC) should utilize communication and outreach tools such as citizen scientists to increase biodiversity observations and to elevate public awareness of the importance of marine biodiversity.

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