The novel ecosystem (NE) concept has been discussed in terrestrial restoration ecology over the last 15 years but has not yet found much traction in the marine context. Against a background of unprecedented environmental change, managers of natural marine resources have portfolios full of altered systems for which restoration to a previous historical baseline may be impractical for ecological, social or financial reasons. In these cases, the NE concept is useful for weighing options and emphasizes the risk of doing nothing by forcing questions regarding the value of novelty and how it can best be managed in the marine realm. Here, we explore how the concept fits marine ecosystems. We propose a scheme regarding how the NE concept could be used as a triage framework for use in marine environments within the context of a decision framework that explicitly considers changed ecosystems and whether restoration is the best or only option. We propose a conceptual diagram to show where marine NEs fit in the continuum of unaltered to shifted marine ecosystems. Overall, we suggest that the NE concept is of interest to marine ecologists and resource managers because it introduces a new vocabulary for considering marine systems that have been changed through human actions but have not shifted to an alternate stable state. Although it remains to be seen whether the concept of marine NEs leads to better conservation and restoration decisions, we posit that the concept may help inform management decisions in an era of unprecedented global marine change. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.