Research into the microbiomes of natural environments is changing the way ecologists and evolutionary biologists view the importance of microorganisms in ecosystem function. This is particularly relevant in ocean environments, where microorganisms constitute the majority of biomass and control most of the major biogeochemical cycles, including those that regulate Earth’s climate. Coastal marine environments provide goods and services that are imperative to human survival and well-being (for example, fisheries and water purification), and emerging evidence indicates that these ecosystem services often depend on complex relationships between communities of microorganisms (the ‘microbiome’) and the environment or their hosts — termed the ‘holobiont’. Understanding of coastal ecosystem function must therefore be framed under the holobiont concept, whereby macroorganisms and their associated microbiomes are considered as a synergistic ecological unit. Here, we evaluate the current state of knowledge on coastal marine microbiome research and identify key questions within this growing research area. Although the list of questions is broad and ambitious, progress in the field is increasing exponentially, and the emergence of large, international collaborative networks and well-executed manipulative experiments are rapidly advancing the field of coastal marine microbiome research.