Boundary spanning – the practice of facilitating knowledge exchange to address complex sustainability challenges – has the potential to align research and policymaking and increase the uptake of research in decision making. But the goals, methods, and outcomes of boundary-spanning activities in the environment sector can be difficult to describe, missing an opportunity to share lessons learned and improve as a community of practice. This paper describes boundary-spanning activities to integrate research about environmental sustainability with federal ocean policy dialogues in the U.S. We describe the process of organizing, facilitating, and learning from a series of meetings in which five interdisciplinary researchers engaged with federal ocean policy audiences. While the longer-term impacts of the activities associated with these meetings are subtle and remain difficult to detect, more immediate outcomes are observable. These include new professional relationships among researchers and policy staff, reported relevance of the research to general policy discourse, and a narrative that frames the opportunity for policymakers to learn from past industrialization on land as they manage an emerging industrial revolution in the ocean. By presenting the process and outcomes of our boundary-spanning activities, we aim to stimulate timely debate within ocean policy, management, and research communities about the importance of multiple benefits provided by healthy and intact ocean ecosystems and how to protect them in the face of the expanding industrialization of the ocean.