Viewed from space, it is clear why our planet would be better named “Ocean” than “Earth.” More than 70% of the planet’s surface is covered by interconnected bodies of water. Life originated in the oceans about 3.5 billion years ago and microbes were the only form of life for two thirds of the planet’s existence. The development and maintenance of all other forms of life depend absolutely on the past and present activities of marine microbes. Yet the vast majority of humans live their lives completely unaware of the amazing diversity and importance of marine bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi and viruses. Such understanding is vital as we now live in a period of rapid global change. Today, our subject is characterized by multidisciplinary investigations and widespread application of powerful new tools in molecular biology, information technology, advanced imaging, remote sensing, and deep-sea exploration. These have led to astonishing discoveries of the abundance, diversity and interactions of marine microbial life and its role in global ecology. We now realize the vital role that marine microbes play in the maintenance of our planet, a fact that will have great bearing on our ability to respond to problems such as the increase in human population, over-exploitation of fisheries, climate change, ocean acidification, marine pollution and diseases of marine life. Study of the interactions of marine microbes with other organisms is providing intriguing insights into the phenomena of food webs, symbiosis, pathogenicity, and the important role that microbiomes play in metazoan biology.