Planktonic communities are shaped through a balance of local evolutionary adaptation and ecological succession driven in large part by migration. The timescales over which these processes operate are still largely unresolved. Here we use Lagrangian particle tracking and network theory to quantify the timescale over which surface currents connect different regions of the global ocean. We find that the fastest path between two patches—each randomly located anywhere in the surface ocean—is, on average, less than a decade.