A global ocean observing system based on monitoring biological essential ocean variables (EOVs) is urgently needed to assess, predict and manage the status of marine biodiversity and ecosystems. Earlier this year, more than 20 international specialists at Santa Barbara, California, met to design the necessary backbone for global data collection and reporting. Workshop co-leader Nic Bax says existing data collection networks vary widely in scope and sophistication, and for the next decade, technological developments supporting increasingly automated measurements, as well as significant improvements in metadata and data architecture, will be crucial. Just as critical will be encouraging marine scientists to share their data by making it findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable (FAIR) through the use of common metadata standards. The upcoming OceanObs’19 conference will be an opportunity to build the international consensus on what the global ocean observing system should look like.