Scientists’ ideas, beliefs, and discourses form the frames that shape their choices about which research to pursue, their approaches to collaboration and communicating results, and how they evaluate research outputs and outcomes. To achieve ocean sustainability, there are increasing calls for new levels of engagement and collaboration between scientists and policy-makers; scientists’ willingness to engage depends on their current and evolving frames. Here I present results about how scientists involved in diverse fields of ocean research perceived their role as scientists working at or near the ocean science-policy interface. The survey of 2187 physical, ecological and social scientists from 94 countries showed that scientists held different perspectives about their appropriate level of engagement at the ocean science-policy interface and the relative primacy of science versus politics in formulating ocean policy. Six clusters of scientists varied in their frames; three clusters accounted for 94% of the sample. Of 67 research questions identified from 22 research prioritization and horizon scanning exercises, the top eight were shared among all three clusters. Five focused on the mechanisms and effects of global change on oceans, two focused on data collection and management for long-term ocean monitoring, and one focused on the links between biodiversity and ecological function at different scales. The results from this survey demonstrated that scientists’ beliefs, attitudes and discourse about the role of ocean science at the science-policy interface can be quantified with relatively simple survey questions, that those frames vary among scientists, and that frames are useful for explaining research priorities.