Ocean Life Institute

  • Kelton McMahon, a postdoctoral investigator in WHOI's Fish Ecology Laboratory and a graduate of the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography, observes the fish living on a coral reef. McMahon has been studying the ecological links between reefs, where adult fish spend most of their time, and coastal mangrove swamps, the "nurseries" where they lay their eggs and where the juvenile fish grow up. Scientists like McMahon frequently don SCUBA gear to enter the watery world of the fish they study. (Photo courtesy of Simon Thorrold, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Life on Earth begins in our one ocean

The ocean is the largest habitat for living things in our solar system. Almost certainly it was the ancient cauldron where life developed from complex chemistry, and today it is home to the greatest diversity of major plant, animal, and microbial groups on Earth.

Biological productivity of the oceans plays a vital role in the global climate and carbon cycle, and provides nearly 50 percent of Earth's oxygen and 20 percent of the world's protein supply.

But at the beginning of the 21st century, we realize that the ocean is at once overexploited and underexplored. Even as most of the world's fisheries face declining catches and many marine habitats are degraded by pollution and development, the vast majority of the ocean is unknown, concealing undiscovered environments and life forms.

Through focused research themes—ocean biodiversity, coral reefs and endangered ocean megafauna— the Ocean Life Institute  explores the oceans' extraordinary diversity of life to identify ways to sustain healthy marine environments and to learn about the origin and evolution of life on Earth and perhaps other planetary bodies. Institute activities emphasize biological questions that affect natural ecosystems and/or human society. Its objectives are to advance the study of marine organisms and biological processes with new technologies and approaches, to develop new opportunities for research, to convene local and national discussions on important ocean life questions, and to communicate scientific results in a timely, objective, and effective manner so that conservationists, policymakers and the general public can make informed decisions about the use of this vast natural resource.