Director's Letter


The Pulse of the Ocean

As a kid growing up in Hawaii, I spent carefree time snorkeling on the reefs around Coconut Island and fishing in Kane‘ohe Bay. I went to high school and graduate school in the San Francisco Bay area, where I experienced a big estuary for the first time sailing on the Bay. In college I spent an intense summer taking courses at Friday Harbor Laboratories in Puget Sound, watching the marvelous embryology of strange marine invertebrates and experiencing the world of serious research for the first time. In each of these wonderful places, with their biodiversity and natural resources, I could also see the effects of overfishing, overdevelopment, pollution, invasive species, and now climate change—all the same problems that we are tracking in Chesapeake Bay.

That’s part of what makes it so gratifying for me to see what SERC’s been doing in the Pacific over the last three years. Three new sites in the Pacific Ocean have teamed up with us to join MarineGEO, or the Marine Global Earth Observatory, with a fourth soon to follow. MarineGEO is a global effort to take the pulse of biodiversity in the world’s oceans. Launched with just four sites in 2012, thanks to the support of visionaries Michael and Suzanne Tennenbaum, the new sites bring us to a total of nine stations, including SERC, keeping tabs on the oceans’ health.

San Francisco State University has long been a partner of SERC. Our marine invasions scientists have worked side-by-side with theirs for 16 years at the Romberg Tiburon Center in San Francisco Bay. We’re proud to have them as partners in MarineGEO as we embark on a new journey of discovery. Farther north, the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories are preparing to launch their own MarineGEO site, and British Columbia’s Hakai Institute has just become the first Canadian site in the MarineGEO network. And on Oahu, the island where I grew up, scientists at the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology are already studying life in the coral reefs surrounding Coconut Island.

Margot Hessing-Lewis and the Nearshore Tech Team at the Hakai Institute, the first MarineGEO site in Canada. (Photo courtesy of Margot-Hessing Lewis)

The issues our neighbors on the other side of the country are facing are just as urgent as the ones we’re facing here on Chesapeake Bay.  Like us, they’re grappling with a struggling oyster population, an onslaught of invasive species and the effects of pollution and climate change. But they’re also exploring ways to restore and protect their species and ecosystems, and they’re recruiting teams of citizen scientists to join the effort.

The ocean is still a mysterious place, even at the surface. At the Smithsonian, we’re focusing on the thousands and thousands of miles of the coasts, the shallow edges where our resources and our impacts are greatest —and we’re not looking to do it alone. We did it with ForestGEO, which as of this printing has 66 partners in 25 countries. ForestGEO is now almost 40 years old. MarineGEO is only four. As our new partners in the Pacific show, the movement is gaining momentum. Who knows what we'll discover in the next decade?

- Tuck Hines, Director