International scientific collaboration is vital for supporting global and regional measures to protect marine biodiversity in and beyond national jurisdiction. While scientists and governments seem to agree that scientific cooperation is also needed to reduce global imbalances to explore and exploit marine biodiversity, progress in defining and assessing developing countries’ needs has been slow. This paper aims to identify some of those needs by mapping the global distribution of scientific publications from the marine biodiversity field from 1990 until 2018. We present bibliographic data gathered from the Web of Science Core Collection using network analysis and article meta-data to examine international cooperation patterns both within and across regions. We introduce a novel measure, ‘collaboration capital’, which, based on metrics derived from a co-authorship network, attempts to gauge how valuable other actors in the network perceive the collaboration with an actor. Our data reveal that the US and Europe’s usual suspects allocate a significant proportion of collaboration capital from all regions. In turn, regional research networks in Asia, South America, and Africa are severely underdeveloped. These results suggest that measures to strengthen scientific collaboration within regions and between neighboring countries may contribute to strengthening regional research networks, for instance, by encouraging large emerging economies such as Brazil and China to become leaders in their regions in this respect. We conclude that capacity-building measures, such as discussed in current marine biodiversity negotiations, should foster regional scale cooperation efforts.