Recent breakthroughs in remote sensing and in situ observation technologies now allow a detailed understanding of many of the ocean's biogeochemical and physical processes on regional and global scales. These databases allow us to explore the processes determining the life histories, habitats, abundance, and distributions of marine species. To pursue this research, intensified studies of biogeography, systematics, taxonomy, and the natural history of marine organisms are needed (National Research Council, 1996). The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has sponsored a series of "Census of Marine Life" workshops which have sought to define an international program of research. At one of the workshops (Grassle, 1997), authorities on marine benthic taxa, community ecology, conservation biology, and biological statistics called for internationally-recognized specialists on marine taxa to work with information specialists and oceanographers to produce an online, electronic atlas of marine life. This digital atlas of species' distributions and associated marine habitats would guide sampling designs for a "Census of Marine Life" and generate hypotheses concerning the origin and maintenance of diversity of life in the oceans.