Submission from the Marine Biological
Association of the United Kingdom
The Marine Biological Association of the UK
is concerned about insufficient and fragmented funding and organisation
of marine science in the UK, which may erode the leading role
of Britain in Europe and worldwide. Welcome steps have been taken
to reverse fragmentation (eg the Oceans 2025 programme of the
Natural Environment Research Council [NERC] laboratories). While
UK marine science benefits from the diversity of organisations
carrying out marine research, each with particular and unique
attributes, it is important to foster and maintain their coordinated
activities through well-organised, consistent funding mechanisms.
This is particularly the case for sustained observations essential
to manage marine resources in a rapidly changing world and to
contribute towards models of global environmental change enabling
forecast of future states.
1. The Marine Biological Association (MBA)
is a Learned Society established in 1884 with over 1,000 members.
It has run a Laboratory in Plymouth since 1888 where 60 staff
now work. MBA staff have been at the forefront of investigations
into the biology and oceanography of our seas since establishment.
The results of the recent (2004-05) Science and Management Audit
(SMA) undertaken by NERC concluded that MBA science was mainly
outstanding with some excellent. The account of the SMA (http://www.mba.ac.uk/PDF/SMAbackground.pdf)
gives more information about the MBA, (see also the rest of the
MBA website for general information www.mba.ac.uk ).
2. The MBA welcomes the opportunity to contribute
to the Select Committee inquiry. In the following submission,
we draw especial attention to the importance of whole organism
science in an ecosystem context including support of environmental
protection and management, and the importance of long-term studies.
The need to maintain a spread of expertise across a range of institutes
and to knowledge transfer is emphasised.
3. The MBA draws the Committee's attention
to NERC's recent Marine Review conducted in 2005 following the
Science and Management Audits of all the NERC Marine Centres.
CEFAS science has also been recently reviewed. This evidence may
be of value although it is not fully available in the public domain.
4. The MBA has contributed to the development
of Oceans 2025 which we believe is a sound and well-considered
approach to NERC-funded UK marine science for the next five years
involving all the NERC funded marine research institutes (see
separate collective response by the Oceans 2025 Directors).
5. The MBA comments refer only to British
and non-polar European waters. Marine science is organised under
different sectoral and funding umbrellas: statutory-driven science
and monitoring delivered by government departments and their agencies
(eg FRS Aberdeen, CEFAS, EA, SEPA), strategic science largely
funded by NERC via institutes and collaborative centres, and the
university sector which derives funding from a variety of sources,
particularly for blue skies responsive mode funding from the Research
Councils. Thus there is considerable overlap on this spectrum
from pure to very applied science and knowledge transfer. Whilst
there has been progress towards a more coordinated approach to
marine science (eg Oceans 2025 by the NERC laboratories) more
integration across the sector as a whole would benefit scientists
and funders by reducing unnecessary competition and duplication
of effort. A more coherent approach would enable major issues
to be addressed in the most cost-effective way. Government departments
commissioning research, rather than letting competitive tenders,
may be more appropriate in some areas, such as long-term sustained
observations, pollution studies and fisheries management.
THE UK INTERNATIONALLY
6. The UK is widely acknowledged as being
second only to the United States in marine sciences. However,
a more coherent approach to funding has led to countries such
as Germany, France and the Netherlands challenging the UK's lead
role in Europe in certain sectors.
7. The competitive nature of British science
does mean that UK scientists do well when bidding for European
Framework funding because of extensive experience in grant writing
and tendering. There is a risk that marine scientists in the UK
spend too much time competing for funding rather than writing
leading edge papers.
8. There is some fragmentation of coverage
in support of research in marine science and technology. Although
the NERC supports most responsive mode (blue skies) and strategic
research (eg the Oceans 2025 programme), there are also other
funders. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
(EPSRC) funds important areas such as coastal engineering and
basic research relevant to marine science and technology. The
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
is responsible for biotechnological research and there is a risk
that important developments in the use of products and genes from
the great diversity of marine organisms is being neglected as
it is in an interface area between NERC and BBSRC. Aquaculture
research and development has suffered similarly. Research on the
evolutionary and basic biology of marine organisms (eg genetics,
development, behaviour) is also compromised by BBSRC's focus on
model organisms (ie fly, worm, yeast, Arabidopsis) eschewing the
comparative approach. Recent changes in eligibility of different
organisations for responsive mode funding may further lead to
missed opportunities as a result of instructions to Research Councils
by the Office of Science & Innovation. NERC have been very
catholic and inclusive in their interpretation of these instructions
in contrast to BBSRC who have excluded some leading organisations
from direct responsive mode funding, although this is under discussion
9. Considerable funding is also available
from Government departments and agencies for policy-driven science.
This diversity of funding sources enables much applied research
and knowledge transfer.
OF UK RESEARCH
10. We are concerned that whole organism
science and especially the science needed to support marine environmental
protection and management is in decline and that the retention
of both taxonomic (including alpha taxonomy and identification)
and survey skills needs to be addressed.
11. Much of the concern about human impacts
on our seas relates to inshore areas and undertaking surveys and
maintaining monitoring programmes must rely on teams of experienced
ecologists working on the shore and from small vessels. We see
a reluctance to undertake whole organism ecological surveys such
as the Marine Nature Conservation Review of Great Britain which
was finished prematurely in 1998. Broad scale mapping projects
are important but conservation action requires information on
the species and habitats (as biotopes) present in the seas around
Britain. Gaps in knowledge need to be filled.
12. There is also expertise in many small
coastal laboratories or university departments with strong marine
biological expertise. We are concerned that Defra seems over-reliant
on the ex-fisheries laboratories as their "traditional"
source of information from whom to commission survey work.
13. There is a shortage of oceanographic
and ecological modellers in the UK. There are also difficulties
in recruiting scientists with particular skills such as molecular
biology, and environmental geophysical sciences. As a consequence
many research laboratories have a high proportion of non-UK scientists,
although this reflects the open door policy of the UK scientific
community to European and international scientific integration.
14. We find the reference to "marine
sites of special scientific interest" confusing as SSSI is
a statutory designation that is rarely used for and is not designed
to protect marine features. However, we do feel that marine protected
areas (mpa's) could provide scientists with the opportunity to
study marine ecosystems that are as close as possible to natural
conditions (reference or control sites) as well as protecting
threatened and important features. With the prospects of a Marine
Bill with spatial planning at its core, provisions for mpa's should
be made. Identifying those mpa's should use criteria developed
by the recent Review of Marine Nature Conservation (RMNC) and
not rely on provisions for the Habitats Directive which is poorly
developed for marine habitats and species.
15. Research that will help to manage and
protect important features for marine natural heritage is often
indicated in Biodiversity Action Plans, although many "worthy"
species do not qualify because of "insufficient information"
predominating in the selection procedure. A new tranche of Biodiversity
Action Plans is in preparation at the moment, supported by the
RMNC "Nationally Important Marine Features" list. This
time around, we need any commitments made by research councils
to undertake research to be fulfilled as they were not in the
16. Concerns about climate change impacts
have "re-vitalized" interest in long-term biological
and oceanographic data setsmany of which were closed-down
in the mid 1980s to make way for marine science that was more
fashionable at the time. There is a strong case to ensure both
the maintenance of existing schemes and the establishment of new
schemes that will help us to understand the rate at which our
seas are changing and to what extent those changes are the result
of human activities. There is particular need to separate broad
scale low-amplitude global change from regional and local impacts.
The work being undertaken needs to be shared and complementarity
is importantnetworking and agreeing to collaborative projects
through groups such as the Defra Marine Environmental Change Network
are essential. Sustained observation is at the core of the Oceans
17. Monitoring is not sufficient in itself.
Process-based studies integrating molecular and cellular mechanisms
through to whole ecosystems are required in order to forecast
future environmental states and enable adaptional approaches to
dealing with climate change.
18. We feel that knowledge transfer from
the science community to policy advisors and to industry is not
as strong and well-structured as it could be. Obviously, there
is skill needed in getting complex concepts across to non-scientists
but that needs to be done; not least because there is a danger
of duplication and therefore unnecessary expense. The Marine Climate
Change Impacts Partnership is an example of good practice. The
UK, however, does far better than its European neighbours in transferring
information from academic and government scientists to policy
19. We draw the attention of the Committee
to the leading work that has been undertaken in the UK to provide
the structures and criteria that are essential in cataloguing
our very varied seabed environment and establishing criteria to
identify protective measures. That work has been undertaken especially
under the auspices of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee
and has been highly influential in establishing common classifications
and approaches to protection in Europe and the north Atlantic.
The UK should continue to lead within Europe on knowledge transfer
related to marine environmental protection and management.