Submission from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory
(i) There is a rich diversity of funding
for marine science and a complex array of providers of strategic
marine science. By and large the current structure works well,
and the recent co-ordination of NERC strategic marine science
is a very welcome development. However, there is a need for a
review of the relationship of the fisheries laboratories and the
rest of the sector.
(ii) PML, together with its partners in the
Plymouth Marine Sciences Partnership (PMSP) represents one of
the largest groupings of marine science and technologists in Europe.
Research is carried out ranging from blue-skies molecular biology
through to applied renewable energy technologies. Plymouth science
also contributes strongly to UK policy.
(iii) The UK has a very strong reputation
internationally in marine science and leads in many sectors. The
UK also has a strong leadership role in the EU.
(iv) The skill base in the UK in most areas
of marine science is extremely buoyant, although some sectors
are relatively under-represented, eg mathematics. However, PML
itself has not had difficulty in recruiting in the more numeracy
related areas. However, a four-year PhD programme is now almost
mandatory, given the poor preparation now provided by most first
(v) Whilst the current SSSI designations
are of relatively minor importance for UK waters, the marine protected
areas proposed in emerging legislation are crucial for the sound
management of the UK.
(vi) Marine science is playing an increasingly
important role in understanding the workings and future of the
Earth system. Marine questions are of key importance in most of
the critical problems facing humankind in the early 21st century.
These include: climate change, sea level rise, ocean acidification,
maintenance of biodiversity and sustainability; food production
and human health and well-being. A strong UK blue-skies and strategic
marine science research base is essential for the economy of the
UK and its leadership in world affairs.
1. The Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)
welcomes the opportunity to comment.
2. PML is an independent marine environmental
research institute. It is a registered charity and a company limited
by guarantee. PML was formally a wholly owned centre of the Natural
Environment Research Council (NERC). PML became independent in
2002 and is now a Collaborative Research Centre of NERC and an
OSI recognised public sector research establishment.
3. PML welcomes the Committee's decision
to hold an enquiry into marine science. The oceans are increasingly
being recognised as a key component of the Earth System and are
intimately linked to many of the greatest pressures facing humankind
in the early 21st century, namely: climate change; sea level rise;
ocean acidification; biodiversity, and food supply.
4. PML's comments below represent a primarily
"PML-centric" view since wider issues have been considered
in the NERC consolidated response.
UK MARINE SCIENCE
5. PML receives funds from a variety of
sources, for example, NERC, Government Departments (eg DEFRA,
DTI). More commercial funding is also available, although this
is primarily focused on specific problem solving for the sponsor.
PML has also received some funds from research charities, eg the
6. A particular limitation currently is
the apparently arbitrary way in which organisations are eligible
for funding. For example, PML is unable to bid for responsive
mode funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research
Council, despite having a well developed capability in some of
the areas of interest to that Research Council. Similarly, PML
has found it extraordinarily difficult to obtain funding from
the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, although
there are signs that this route is opening up somewhat.
7. A particular concern of PML is the lack
of funding at full economic cost (FEC). Clearly this is not unique
to PML and there are welcome signs that some funders are moving
toward full cost recovery mechanisms. PML remains concerned, however,
that it might be many years before all funders agree to support
research at full economic cost and perhaps not at all in the case
of some charities.
8. A particular frustration is that some
funding schemes or multidisciplinary projects working at the interface
of, for example, two Research Councils, frequently face "double
jeopardy" in the decision making. For example, in recent
years, PML has identified research which has secured funding from
the MoD which has not been successful in obtaining funding from
NERC. In these cases, the same grant mechanisms have been used
to assess these strategic projects as blue-skies projects. By
their very nature, the strategic projects have a problem solving,
near market element which would not "score" highly using
the normal blue-skies mechanisms. There is a need for a review
of such schemes. Similarly, research at interfaces needs to be
able to satisfy two (or more) Research Councils, at which point,
it is relatively easy for a particular Council to decide not to
support a piece of work if it has received funds from elsewhere.
A review of how to deal with interdisciplinary science is long
9. A particular local issue facing PML (and
other NERC funded strategic institutes) currently is the proposed
adoption of a new funding and allocation model being developed
by the NERC. In essence, this should provide a more transparent
mechanism for funding. It is also intended to open up funding
to more competition. Whilst this is to be welcomed in principle,
the potential consequences could be damaging if taken to its logical
limits. PML supports these developments and is helping in their
development; nevertheless, they do represent some considerable
10. Within the context of the wider organisation
of science, there is a need to address the role of the fisheries
institutes relative to the other strategic research institutes.
There is a perception, in part justifiable, that organisations
such as CEFAS are gradually shifting their focus and becoming
more aggressive competitors. PML's anecdotal experience is that
CEFAS was more collaborative in past years. Overall, there is
certainly a need for a wide review of the fisheries laboratories
and Research Council institutes in supporting UK-wide marine science.
11. PML is a founding member (and currently
chairs) the Plymouth Marine Sciences Partnership (PMSP), which
comprises: the Plymouth Marine Laboratory; Marine Biological Association;
University of Plymouth; Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean
Science; National Marine Aquarium. Together this Partnership represents
one of the largest collections of professional marine scientists
and technologists in Europe. The PMSP represents a considerable
resource for the UK and has expertise ranging from molecular biology,
blue biotechnology through marine diversity and sustainability
to coastal protection and marine renewables. The PMSP is currently
engaged in an ambitious project to co-locate many of its activities
on one site as part of a major regeneration project in Plymouth
with support from (amongst others) the South West Regional Development
THE UK INTERNATIONALLY
12. The UK generally has an excellent track
record in international collaboration and in many sectors, the
UK is either the leader or second only to the USA in marine research.
13. In this context, PML also has a very
strong reputation. PML hosts the International Project Office
for GLOBEC, a major IGBP project concerned with marine bioresources,
and was the host site for the early development of the IMBER International
Project Office (now re-located to France). PML also hosts the
national programme office for the Atlantic Meridional Transect
programme (AMT) which has provided a platform for numerous international
researchers. Together with its other PMSP partners (see para 11)
in Plymouth, PML has recently supported the Secretariat of the
international programme partnership for the Observation of the
Global Ocean (POGO), a subscription organisation comprising all
the major research organisations worldwide which exists to promote
collection and sharing of marine data and to develop capacity
in developing nations.
14. PML hosts a number of international
researchers at any one time, including EU Marie Curie Fellows.
Approximately 25% of PML's staff and students are of non-British
15. PML is a major contributor to EU framework
activities. For example, PML is either a member or leads on three
marine related networks of excellence. The EU is PML's third most
important supplier of funding, contributing approximately 20%
of funding (variable year-on-year).
16. PML does not have a specific technology
and engineering division. Rather, PML develops technology in partnership
with external companies in response to the need of specific research
projects. In this way, PML has been responsible for introducing
marine sampling technologies, which are in use throughout the
world. For example, a current project for which DTI funding is
being sought involves a local communications company and will
entail the development of self-contained instrumentation to measure
the concentrations of CO2 in seawater and the atmosphere and deployed
on ocean-going ships of opportunity.
17. PML represents a considerable national
resource in the form of research infrastructure available, for
example, to the UK Higher Education Institute community. Such
support includes: use of inshore research vessels; seawater experimental
mesocosms; world-leading capability in ecosystem modelling and
satellite remote sensing. These facilities are available for both
professional researchers and research students (the latter currently
numbering about 30) at no or little cost.
THE UK RESEARCH
18. The UK has a world-class capability
in Marine Science across virtually all disciplines.
19. PML has particular strengths in marine
biology and chemistry, remote sensingparticularly ocean
colourand marine optics and ecosystem modelling.
20. At any one time, PML is host to approximately
30 research students registered at a variety of universities around
the UK, all of which are rated at either RAE or alpha 4 or 5.
A particularly notable achievement has been the success of the
AMT project (see para 13), which has supported the PhDs of 69
students, with more to come.
21. Collectively the PMSP represents a major
resource in providing training and the development of the skills
base. For example, the University of Plymouth alone has of the
order of 1,500 students registered on various marine courses.
One of the areas in which it is difficult to recruit is that involving
the more numerate sciences. Overall this appears to be true; however,
PML has been fortunate in having been able to recruit strong,
highly numerate candidates for recent computer modelling and remote
sensing positions. We are not sure why this has been the case
and the numbers have been relatively smallfive in the past
three years; however, our experience is positive.
22. Similarly we have not had any difficulty
in recruiting good analytical chemists, although all our recent
recruits have had previous industrial experience.
23. In our experience, undergraduates entering
PhD programmes are less well prepared in some basic skills than
their peers of say 10 years ago. We rarely recruit PhD students
directly from an undergraduate degree; most have some form of
further training or experience, with many having obtained an MSc
or MRes. A four-year training from bachelor to doctorate is now
virtually essential given the relatively poor preparation provided
by a typical first degree, even from the top-class universities.
24. It is not clear what is meant by this.
The current SSSI scheme is restricted essentially to terrestrial
systems, although there are some important coastal and salt-marsh
SSSIs. The scheme does not apply to fully marine sites.
25. PML has experience of the coastal areas
which are important habitats and rich in biodiversity. These coastal/salt-marsh
areas are important for coastal protection and are very vulnerable
to human development and disturbance and global change. The latter
includes: increases in sea level; storminess; floods and ocean
acidification. For example, research at PML has demonstrated that
the biological consequences of warmer or colder than average winters
have profound effects on the population of animals in the salt-marshes
and mud-flats, which in turn changes the ability of these areas
to withstand the consequences or floods, for example. These types
of areas will almost certainly behave in ways that probably cannot
26. The important related aspect to the
topic of SSSIs is the question of fully marine protected areas
(MPAs)perhaps the forthcoming equivalent of SSSIs. The
proposed Marine Bill has MPAs as a central tenet to the management
of the marine domain and PML is a strong and enthusiastic supporter
of this idea. Some form of very serious protection of an appropriate
mosaic of protected areas is the minimum requirement of these
vital, yet hugely sensitive, areas. It is also crucial to understand
that these areas provide a huge and previously unquantified economic
benefit to the UK amounting to many £billions in goods and
27. This is a huge subject and has been
only partially covered by the NERC consolidated statement.
28. The key points here relate to some fundamental
features of the ocean:
They are a massive "flywheel"
with regard to temperaturethey are slow to warm-up but
also slow to cool down. Thus the oceans moderate temperatures.
The composition and biology and chemistry
of the oceans control and are controlled by the atmosphere. For
example, climate is intimately regulated by biological processes
occurring in the ocean.
Ocean circulation is relatively ephemeral
and can change quite rapidly.
75% of the surface of the planet
is influenced by the ocean-atmosphere interface. This is only
a few millionths of a metre in thickness, yet we know very little
about the biology, chemistry and physics of the layer. For example,
we are now discovering a whole new microbial flora in this area
which can probably influence the role of exchange of gases between
the atmosphere and ocean. The virtually ignored process of ocean
acidificationie the process whereby the oceans are becoming
more acidic because of the absorption of human produced CO2, is
now recognised as a problem of huge global significance. Predictors
suggest that, by the end of the 21st century, whole marine ecosystems
may have disappeared. This is not alarmist; the chemistry is very
well constrained, the biology less so, but nevertheless fairly
robust. For example, coral reefs may well not be able to grow
significantly under the lower pHs predicted.
29. Coastal regions are all under threat
from a variety of challenges, including climate change and human
development (something like 50% of the world population lives
within 50 km of the coast).
30. UK Marine Science is active in all these
(and other) key areas identified above. PML is particularly involved
in studies on ocean acidification, the climate regulation provided
by the oceans, biodiversity and sustainability issues and, increasingly,
the state of the marine environment and its influence on human
31. Whilst the importance of the oceans
in the areas above is becoming more prominent, the realisation
of the precarious state of this planet with respect to the oceans
is very poorly known. For example, enormous numbers of people
worldwide are dependent upon the oceans as their only source of
protein. This is under serious threat from, for example, sea-level
rise; acidification, harmful algal blooms and habitat destruction.
Endless other examples could be given. Yet, despite the widening
understanding, appropriate resources are not flowing into the
area. This is in marked contrast to, for example, space travel
and particle physics. I have the highest regard for these latter
areas; however, humankind faces genuine threat in the next few
decades. We need to address these issues as a matter of priority.
Our science is capable of significantly more in the way of delivering
predictions and solutions for the future, but it needs appropriate
8 Beaumont N, Townsend M, Mangi S, Austen M C (2006)
Marine Biodiversity. An economic valuation. Building the evidence
base for the Marine Bill. Defra, London, July 2006. Back