What do you get when a lawyer, a modeller, an economist, a social scientist and an ecologist talk about the ocean? Besides an interesting conversation, it is likely there will be some consideration of how to solve many of the problems facing marine ecosystems around the world. That is precisely what the MSEAS 2016 symposium on understanding marine socio-ecological systems aimed to do. From 30 May to 3 June in Brest, France, the symposium gathered over 230 participants from around the world and from multiple disciplines to discuss the challenge of explicitly considering the human component in producing synoptic assessments of marine social-ecological systems. The symposium fostered dynamic debates on the inter-disciplinary collaborations needed to support management of ongoing and anticipated growth in multiple ocean uses, with particular consideration of the triple bottom line of ecological, economic and social sustainability. Building on the illustrations produced by a professional cartoonist during the meeting, this graphic novel summarizes the key challenges ahead in understanding marine socio-ecological systems and draws a path for future research endeavours in this domain.