Select Committee on Science and Technology Tenth Report


289. Throughout this inquiry, witnesses from all sides have stressed the need for a UK marine strategy, either for science and technology alone or across the whole maritime sector. In May and June 2007 we visited two countries which have recently adopted national strategies in respect of marine science.

290. In Portugal, the strategy was developed by the Task Force for Sea Affairs in 2006, as a first step towards the integration of policies and a holistic vision of oceans and activities. The Portuguese strategy covers maritime affairs in the round, with each priority area underpinned by science. Its intention is "to create the conditions and the mechanisms to enable agents to develop sea-related activities, in a balanced and articulated way, with the objective of improving the quality of the marine environment, fostering economic growth and creating new jobs and opportunities".[620] It gives priority "to the development of knowledge, skills and shared management tools that make it possible to deal with the causes of problems and not merely with their symptoms" and aims to "create a co-ordinating structure for maritime affairs that will promote policy articulation, the definition of strategic directions, the clarification of competences and areas of intervention, adding value to the sectoral objectives, so that the overall result is more than the sum of the sectoral results".[621] The strategy identifies three priority actions, including creating a structure to implement the plan and follow up work on the European Maritime Policy green paper, and eight strategic actions, which cover raising awareness, education and outreach, promotion of Portugal as a centre of excellence in ocean sciences, spatial planning, marine ecosystems, development of the maritime economy, new technology and defence-related measures. The inter-agency commission, established as the first measure of the strategy, met in May 2007 for the first time.

291. In the US, the National Science and Technology Council's Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology published their Ocean Research Priorities Plan (ORPP) and Implementation Strategy in January 2007.[622] The ORPP developed research priorities that focus on issues in key areas of interaction between society and the ocean as well as guidance on how ocean science sectors (government, academia, industry, and non-governmental organisations) can be engaged to address the research priority areas. The ORPP identifies national ocean research priorities for the next ten years to ensure that the management, use and protection of the ocean ecosystem is based on the best available scientific evidence. It also outlines four key research areas that should be pursued in the next four years. The strategy was devised in collaboration with the academic marine community and involves engagement with private sector partners. It is important to note that the ORPP was developed in response to a recommendation in the holistic US Ocean Action Plan which "fundamentally restructured ocean governance, research and management to 'engender responsible use and stewardship of ocean and coastal resources for the benefit of all Americans'".[623]

292. These developments are part of a growing international trend, identified by witnesses, "towards more integrated policies for maritime activities and the marine environment".[624] To the US and Portuguese examples can be added Australia's Ocean Policy, Canada's Oceans Act 1997 and Japan's long term ocean policy for the 21st century set out by the Council for Science and Technology Subdivision on Ocean development in August 2002. In addition, we note that in the case of Portugal the development of a strategy is at least partly linked to the European Maritime Strategy green paper which is seeking a new approach to managing marine ecosystems and identifying priorities for research and policy development.

The need for a UK marine science strategy

293. At the moment, the UK lacks a strategy with clear priorities for marine research and the means of fulfilling them. The Society for Underwater Technology pointed out that "Despite identification of the fragmented nature of its provision in 1985, and again in 1990, the organisation of marine research, technology and affairs is still lacking an over-riding strategy and is spread amongst many agencies."[625] The JNCC argued strongly that

    So far as JNCC is aware, no overall objectives for publicly-funded marine science have been promoted by Government, nor is there any over-arching strategy for publicly-funded marine science. This is likely to be due, in large measure, to the manner in which research funding has developed and evolved in the UK over time, but the lack of central direction and co-ordination of publicly-funded science has the potential to lead to duplication of effort, lack of collaboration where this is desirable, gaps in research endeavour, and research funds being allocated with insufficient regard to national priorities.[626]

The JNCC also argued that a strategy is needed for UK participation in international projects where "so far as we are aware, there is no overall UK guidance or strategy in relation to the disbursement of UK publicly-funded marine science resources internationally, either in relation to the UK continental shelf, the various Overseas Territories, or elsewhere, nor any particular mechanism for allocating research expenditure or effort in accordance with policy priorities, with the range of international treaty obligations, or in relation to environmental pressures".[627] Similarly, Gardline, a private sector organisation, argued that

    National and international collaborative programmes deliver significant benefits for UK Policy and management advice. However, there is neither a strategic overview managing the research that is currently carried out under the wide variety of funding sources nor are these programmes generally required to meet objectives that have been defined in a coherent fashion to meet UK Policy objectives.[628]

A strategy has the potential therefore to offer clear direction, reduce duplication and encourage coherence of research effort.

294. One reason witnesses called for a strategy was to improve the performance of the Government in commissioning marine research. The IACMST suggested that "the Government needs to behave as a coherent commissioner for marine research across all its departments".[629] This was supported by IMarEST who argued that "it is essential that UK government as a whole is committed to understanding, commissioning and coordinating marine science for its policy and operational needs."[630] The Institute gave the example of the possible use of marine science to make improvements to efficiency and safety of shipping through improved weather forecasting for ship routing (Department for Transport), and to provide support for the offshore energy industry by, for example, providing evidence of the benefits of disposing of obsolete rigs as reefs (DTI).[631] A marine research strategy that covered the whole of Government would bring greater synergy between the research effort of different departments and enable them to work together to ensure that all sectors are considered in using the results of science.

295. A precedent for a UK strategy for marine science and technology was established by the CCMST report of 1990 which identified the following six objectives:

  • Environmental protection—to protect against pollution; to monitor and improve biological productivity; to conserve natural resources; and to promote economic viability.
  • Exploitation of resources—to maintain and enhance commercial and safe exploitation of energy resources, minerals, fisheries and the use of the sea.
  • National defence—to improve the performance of naval vessels and understand the effects of the marine environment on ships and submarines.
  • Prediction of climate change and its effects—to reduce uncertainties by improving observations and understanding of ocean-atmospheric interactions.
  • Marine technology—to develop and maintain a strong, innovative industrial effort able to compete in world-wide markets.
  • Statutory and regulatory obligations—to provide for and co-ordinate marine research necessary for official bodies to fulfil their duties.

This provides a good starting point for a strategy in 2007, which should then be developed in full consultation with all involved in marine science—academics, institutions, funders, end-users, including industry, NGOs, the education sector and many others—in order to determine the priorities and overall direction of the strategy. Its aim should be to ensure that the UK marine research effort as a whole is directed to meet the nation's needs.

296. A marine strategy could help to get the balance right between different areas of research and enable synergies to develop. This affects many of the issues identified in this report such as the balance between Arctic and Antarctic research, the balance between research in the open oceans and in the coastal and shelf areas, the balance between evidence-based and precautionary approaches and the balance between areas where self-standing UK expertise should be encouraged and those where international co-operation is paramount. There needs to be flexibility for individual scientists and research groups to work across these boundaries but an explicit statement of strategy and national priorities would be of great benefit.

A UK marine action plan

297. Both in Portugal and the US the marine science strategy statements have emerged from long processes resulting in a single report on the whole of the maritime sector. The EU maritime green paper, is following a similar path. We therefore examined the concept of a plan to cover all marine-related activities in the UK.

298. Dr Horwood of Cefas commented that "It would seem sensible that somewhere there is a very high level overview on whether we have the strategy right for UK plc, and whether all the key players are contributing."[632] Some have implied that Oceans 2025 fills the gap but, as Professor Willmott of POL told us, "Oceans 2025 is about a programme which is renewing the funding for a group of laboratories, it is not a UK-wide national marine strategy".[633] Dr Tew of Natural England said that:

    I think that we are searching for a national framework … The marine environment has to provide us with so much: it has to provide us with renewables and fish and biodiversity. Where is the balance between the Blue Sky research in the deep sea and the applied research in near shore? Who sets the framework for that?[634]

Professor Sir Howard Dalton agreed that "We need a proper marine strategy, you are absolutely right".[635] The Chief Executive of NERC also accepted that a holistic strategy was missing and would be beneficial to the nation.[636] He assured us that NERC would be happy to play a role in this.[637] IMarEST suggested that industry should also be closely involved: "Stronger linkages between the scientists, industry and policy makers in setting priorities and goals for marine science are critical to integrated ocean planning and management."

299. When we asked the Minister about a comprehensive national strategy, he referred to the Marine Bill and Safeguarding Our Seas, both of which concentrate on environmental issues rather than the whole picture.[638] Moreover, even within this area, the Minister listed separate strategies "to deal with marine life, … to deal with ensuring our coastal waters are clean … in terms of climate change and the effect that is having upon the marine life and the effect it is having on our oceans … we also have a strategy for marine monitoring under UKMMAS."[639] This underlines the fragmentation which currently characterises this area of policy. Defra is also working on marine objectives to underpin a marine policy statement as envisaged by the Marine Bill White Paper. We welcome this development but note that these too, whilst including economic activities, do not explicitly refer to areas such as science, public awareness or education. We accept that the Marine Bill process is a first stab at the development of a strategy but it does not include all the key players and interests who must be considered.

300. We believe that there should be a full, overarching UK marine strategy set out in an oceans action plan. We are concerned that this should have a firm basis in science. Professor Sir Howard Dalton argued that in order to have a marine strategy "it is essential that we get the science right".[640] We agree that a UK marine strategy should be underpinned by science and reliable data.


301. We asked witnesses who should implement and oversee a marine strategy in the UK. The NERC Chief Executive suggested that the "marine strategy would feed into [the Defra minister for marine affairs], and a body like ERFF or IACMST could orchestrate the scientific component, and perhaps have a wider feed into the policy area".[641] We agree with this two level approach. On a day to day level the marine science strategy would be best implemented and managed by an executive body such as the agency advocated throughout this Report or by a successor body to the IACMST, with substantially greater powers, reporting to a Government minister. Which minister was a matter of debate during our inquiry. Dr Vincent of the JNCC told us that "there is a certain lack of clarity, at least I am not very clear, as to which minister is responsible for marine science in the sense that the portfolio seems to shift backwards and forwards between the Defra Minister and what was the Office of Science and Innovation".[642] He suggested that if this were clarified, the relevant minister should then give "a much greater policy steer or support" to the IACMST.[643] In oral evidence, the Government witnesses were confident about the position. Jonathan Shaw MP told us "I am the Minister for Marine Science".[644] However, the same panel of witnesses suggested that the champion for marine science should be the Defra CSA and not the Minister.[645]

302. On marine issues, more generally, the lead department is generally Defra but many others have an interest in marine issues and the Department for Transport is co-ordinating policy on the European maritime Green Paper, which gives a dual focus within Government for marine and maritime matters. Defra told us that this is because of the Department of Transport's lead role on maritime transport which is "the key component of the Green Paper".[646] Given that the Green Paper covers a far broader spectrum of activities than transport, we believe that the role taken by the Department for Transport is more of a historical accident and should be reconsidered.

303.  We agree with witnesses that Defra is the most appropriate department to take responsibility for the marine strategy and to host the champion for marine science. We believe that it is essential for a Minister, rather than a Chief Scientific Adviser, to take charge of the marine strategy in order to give marine science a sufficiently high profile across Government. This would also increase accountability to Parliament for the development and implementation of the new strategy. Appointing a Defra Minister as champion for marine science and maritime strategy would require some realignment of responsibilities within Whitehall but could lead to a stronger voice for marine issues on the international stage as well as at home. It is unacceptable that responsibility for the greatest geographical area in the UK (its seas) should be a minor part of a junior ministerial portfolio.

304. We recommend that the UK Government develop a strategy for marine science, setting out priorities for fulfilment in the next ten years and identifying how these will be met. This strategy should be developed in full and open consultation with the science community, the private sector and all those with an interest in the health and exploitation of the oceans, including those involved in education. We further recommend that the marine science strategy be part of a larger holistic strategy or plan for maritime affairs, covering the range of uses of the sea, current and future. The priorities and objectives in this strategy should be underpinned by scientific data and evidence. We recommend that the strategies be the day to day responsibility of a new marine agency, an executive body with powers to require the co-operation of Government departments. At the top of this new structure, we recommend the designation of a Minister for Marine Science within Defra, who should act as the Government champion for the whole maritime strategy.

305. Under this new arrangement, it would be illogical to leave the Department for Transport in charge of Government policy on the European maritime Green Paper. We recommend that this responsibility be passed to the new marine agency.

620   National Ocean Strategy, Published by the Ministerio da Defesa Nacional, Portugal, p 10 Back

621   Ibid, p 11 Back

622   Charting the Course for Ocean Science in the United States for the Next Decade, An Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy, NSTC Joint Sub-Committee on Ocean Science and Technology, 26 January, 2007 Back

623   Charting the Course for Ocean Science in the United States for the Next Decade, An Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy, NSTC Joint Sub-Committee on Ocean Science and Technology, 26 January, 2007, foreword Back

624   Ev 198 Back

625   Ev 139 Back

626   Ev 132 Back

627   Ev 133 Back

628   Ev 136 Back

629   Ev 128 Back

630   Ev 229 Back

631   Ibid Back

632   Q 168 Back

633   Q 207 Back

634   Q 389 Back

635   Q 501 Back

636   Qq 573-4 Back

637   Q 576 Back

638   Q 496 Back

639   Q 498 Back

640   Q 501 Back

641   Q 575 Back

642   Q 384 Back

643   Q 414-5 Back

644   Q 477 Back

645   Qq 500-01 Back

646   Ev 266 Back

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