Submission from WWF-UK
1. With increasing pressures on our seas
from the effects of climate change and the use of marine resources,
it is essential that adequate marine science is available to inform
the management of the UK marine environment and the decision making
process in general.
2. Currently, there are crucial gaps in
UK marine science which hinder policy formationranging
from insufficient data on ocean acidification to the identification
of marine sites for protection. In addition, the pace with which
marine science is presented to inform policy is too slow when
compared to the rate at which man-made change is impacting on
3. WWF is calling for:
A more concerted and structured
effort by the scientific community to produce speedier scientific
conclusions that are suitable for decision making;
Adequate and increased funding
for research which maintains its independence from economic vested
Greater and urgent research
into marine changes such as ocean acidification, the potential
for the oceans to exacerbate climate change and for more information
to identify marine areas in need of protection.
4. WWF is the world's largest and most experienced
independent conservation organisation. We work in more than 90
countries to stop the degradation of the planet and to build a
future in which humans can live in harmony with nature. WWF-UK
is working to reduce our human ecological footprint so that we
can start to live within the carrying capacity of one planetwe
call this One Planet Living.
5. When it comes to policy in the marine
environment, the ecosystem based approach is a tool to delivering
"One Planet Living". The marine ecosystem based approach
represents a more strategic way of managing our seas. It places
the emphasis on a marine management regime that maintains the
health of the marine ecosystem alongside appropriate human use
of the marine environment for the benefit of current and future
6. WWF specifically works on achieving the
long-term sustainable recovery and management of fish stocks,
the need for a new Marine Act to introduce a planning system to
properly manage the UK marine environment and to protect marine
wildlife and the need to reduce carbon emissions from land and
marine activities to mitigate climate change.
7. Fundamental to our work, however, is
credible and timely science with which to inform policy. WWF's
submission, therefore, addresses the current gaps in and constraints
on marine science in the UK.
8. The production of scientific conclusions
needs to keep up with the changes in the marine environment. Organisational
change and greater inter-disciplinary cross-over is required to
achieve this. In addition, policy makers must use the best available
science to act when urgency is required.
9. An ecosystem based management system
for our seas is essential for the sustainable use of marine resources
and for the protection of marine wildlife. Managing one aspect
and use of the marine environment in isolation can lead to unintended
and counterproductive outcomes. Fundamental to avoiding this is
the need for inter-disciplinary science to assess cumulative and
synergistic (combined) impacts on the environment, leading to
an assessment of the full impacts on an ecosystem with which to
inform policy decisions. Many scientific institutions and studies,
however, sit in silos. Even those institutions which cover a range
of disciplines, keep them in separate sections, chapters or studies.
The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEAs) for oil and gas
development in the UK, for example, needs to be improved to address
the cumulative impacts on the environment. The challenge, therefore,
is to encourage proper linkages across scientific research in
order to take the wider picture and fullest assessment.
10. It is essential if science is to inform
the policy making process that its findings are as up to date
as possible. Modern society and technology run at a far faster
pace than ever before, with a corresponding changing impact on
the environment including our seas, and it is now necessary for
reforms to the organisation of science to keep apace. The changes
in the marine environment are happening faster than science can
report them due to the procedures and standard practices set up
over decades of methodical science, which relies upon lengthy
processes to ensure its credibility. Climate change and its impact
on the marine environment, for example, are progressing incredibly
rapidly, and we do not understand the processes adequately to
predict significant changes before they occur. In some cases,
we are just reporting regime shifts (huge change in ecosystem
dynamics) that occurred nearly 20 years ago. The risk is, with
the current mechanisms in place, science will observe and record
the degradation of the marine environment as decades pass.
11. In these circumstances where urgent
mitigation and adaptation is required, a more rapid process for
engaging with the available science is needed. An emerging and
dynamic approach is to organise forums of scientific experts to
resolve differences of opinion (through an assessment of uncertainty
and probabilities) in order to produce a quicker scientific consensus.
As such, real time data can be utilised also. This approach can
also help with the beneficial fusion of science and policy. By
including policy makers in these forums, decision makers can access
and put key questions to the experts and view the state of the
science. They can also advise on what further research is most
relevant to developing the policy process and better understand
how to set policy while some uncertainty remains.
12. Crucial to this approach, however, is
that decision makers engage with this "early signs science"
(best available science) and act on the basis of the precautionary
principle. Further research should be undertaken but this should
not be an excuse not to act. The use of fisheries science is a
case in point. Scientific advice by the International Council
for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), for a zero catch for cod
in the North Sea has been ignored by the EU Fisheries Council
for the past five years. Indeed, for the past 15 years, political
pressure has led to quotas being set an average of 30% above the
recommendations made by ICES and fish stocks, notably cod, have
to yet to recover. Regardless of how much science is undertaken,
therefore, it will be next to useless if the best available advice
is not followed by policy-makers.
13. WWF Recommends that:
Greater interdisciplinary science
is encouraged on the full array of inputs into the marine environment
to inform better management.
Scientific uncertainty, with
regards to changes in the marine environment, is addressed more
quickly through forums of experts so as better to inform the policy
14. WWF believes that funding for marine
science should not be reduced at a time when the marine environment
is increasingly being affected by climate change and the pressure
for resources. In addition it is vital that scientific research
is able to maintain an independence from economic influences.
15. It is critical that the core of UK science
is centrally funded by government and to an adequate level. WWF
is deeply concerned about the impact that recent cuts in research
budgets is having and the knock on effects of cuts elsewhere on
the marine research agenda. In the 2006-07 financial year the
originally agreed budgets for the Environment Agency, Natural
England and the Marine Fisheries Agency were cut by £23.7
million (5%), £12.9 million (7%) and £1.7 million (7%)
respectively. The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology also suffered
losses. The lack of funding for marine research has meant that
the Joint Nature Conservation Committee is unable to monitor the
Darwin Mounds which has been proposed as a Special Area for Conservation
(SAC). The JNCC have taken measures, through the CFP, to protect
the rare and important cold water corals on this site, but are
unable to monitor and evaluate the success of their management
regime or the conservation status of this site. In addition, the
loss of funding for the long standing science facility in the
Isle of Man at Port Erin is a significant blow.
16. Additionally, the move to introduce
market forces into sections of institutions, such as the Met Office
and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
(CEFAS) has the potential to detrimentally affect research and
science by affecting its focus and independence. The Royal Society,
for example, in September 2006 expressed its deep concern over
the impact that industry based research was having on the climate
change debate, in particular ExxonMobil's influence on science.
The standards of science in the UK, particularly on climate change
issues, and in the marine environment, have been exemplary and
of high repute in the international arena. Changes to the funding
base of UK science could, therefore, put this reputation and the
science itself at risk.
17. While the core of UK science should
be funded by Government there is a role for additional fundingif
properly managed. As much of the science needed today is to understand
and predict the impacts of industry on the environment, and to
develop technologies to avoid, reduce and remedy these impacts,
it seems realistic that industrial funding for science is appropriate.
Ocean acidification, noise and water pollution are all areas where
further research on industrial impacts on the marine environment
18. However, due to the reasons of scientific
independence described above, it would be better if this additional
funding was managed through a research levy on those industries
that are having a particularly detrimental impact on the marine
environment. The funds from the levy would be administered through
an independent organisation which would then finance research
into industry related impacts and solutions. This would be in
addition to the independent research agendas that each industry
might like to pursue. This is one way of adopting the polluter
pays principle and of increasing funds.
19. WWF Recommends:
Reversing cuts to the budget
of UK marine science;
Ensuring the independence of
scientific research; and
A levy on industry adversely
impacting on the marine ecosystem to fund research into the solutions.
20. Marine science around the poles must
be extended in breadth and depth with the full range of plausible
future scenarios investigated.
21. WWF is extremely concerned about the
systems in the poles which will affect the rest of the world as
climate change progresses. The extent of sea level rise which
can be produced from the poles needs addressing and measurements
and predictive techniques need to be further developed. Modelling
needs to be updated with field observations and the full range
of possible scenarios need to be explored and used when deciding
the scale of mitigation needed.
22. The seas around the Arctic have already
warmed by 4°C in some areas, and by 2080 the Arctic Climate
Impact Assessment (2005) predicts that the central Arctic Ocean
winter temperatures will have risen 8-9°C. The polar and
marine sciences need to be developed so that politicians know
what the polar areas will look like and what protection (from
fishing/hunting, oil and gas exploitation and shipping) they will
require as they respond to climate changes. Some changes will
lead to further pressure on the region, if exploited. How potential
additional oil and gas development and increased shipping in the
polar regions (due to retreating ice) will affect the area directly,
but also how they may further exacerbate climate change itself,
must be researched.
23. WWF Recommends:
That the full range of plausible
future scenarios and uses for the poles should be investigated
to determine what impact on the wider environment they may have.
24. While progress has been made on the
impact of climate change on the marine environment, more is required.
In addition, research is urgently required into the impact that
changes in the marine environment could have on accelerating climate
changeso called positive feedbacks mechanisms.
25. WWF helps fund the Marine Climate Change
Impact Partnership, and also produced an Assessment of the Impacts
of Climate Change on the NE Atlantic shelf seas in 2005 (Baker,
2005). Both of these studies, and others, helped start the process
of understanding the impacts of climate change in the UK Seas.
This work must be rapidly increased with a step change in the
scientific understanding, particularly, in the cumulative impacts
of the predicted changes, and in the context of other human pressures,
such as over fishing. The UK should also be studying the impacts
of marine climate change in overseas territories, Commonwealth
Seas and the wider marine environment.
26. Ocean acidification is an impact from
CO2 which is additional to climate change. The marine environment
has absorbed roughly half the CO2 produced by industrial processes
to date. This has been to the detriment of the seas, as the CO2
is forming carbonic acid and is making the seas more acidic. Within
the next few decades, the seas are predicted to be more acidic
than in the past 20 million years (see slide in annexe). More
acidic seas are predicted to have impacts upon many marine organisms,
eg some plankton and corals and other organisms which require
a calcium shell to protect themselves. Cold water corals in UK
waters are particularly vulnerable and predicted by the Royal
Society to be likely to be lost due to acidification within decades
(Royal Society, 2005). Research and monitoring science in the
UK and internationally, therefore, is desperately needed into
the impacts of this process on coral reefs, plankton and fish
species. These species form the basis of ecosystems which are
the main source of protein for a billion people (UN Atlas of the
27. Of vital importance is better research
into the impacts of the oceans on climate change. The ways the
seas and climate interact are changing and several mechanisms
exist which have the potential for the oceans to exacerbate climate
change itself. One example is the huge reserves of methane hydrates
in marine and coastal areas. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas,
being 20 times more so than CO2, and represents a huge potential
feedback mechanism to climate change from our seas and coasts.
Estimates vary, but there are thought to be total global methane
hydrate reserves that correspond to 500-2,500 gigatonnes carbon
(GtC) (Milkov 2004). By comparison, it is estimated that 5,000
GtC exist for all other fossil fuel reserves and only 230 GtC
of other natural gas sources are estimated to exist (Milkov 2004,
USGS 2000). The permafrost methane reservoir has been estimated
at about 400 GtC in the Arctic (MacDonald, 1990), but no estimates
have been made of possible Antarctic reservoirs.
28. To be stable, methane hydrates need
high pressure or low temperatures. In the Arctic region, methane
is being released as ecosystems warm and as sea levels rise. Huge
lenses of methane hydrate ice crystals exist underneath the permafrost.
Coastal areas are vulnerable to warmer waters rising and melting
the methane ice crystals from below and it is thought that some
reserves are already beginning to mobilise and release to atmosphere
(pers comm., David Long, British Geological Survey, 2006). WWF
has been unable to find adequate evidence of research into the
level and nature of this feedback and any efforts to research
into solutions. This is a vital area for research which the UK
Government should develop rapidly, in partnership with other nations
and industry as industry hold many of the tools and expertise
for measuring and responding to methane hydrate release. The release
must be measured and studied. Prevention should be studied, and
where release is inevitable the best practicable environmental
option should be employed to prevent methane causing rapid global
warming, as it is thought to have done in the past.
29. Other major potential feedback mechanisms
exist in the marine environment, including changes to cloud formation
and changes to the transport of heat from the tropics to the poles.
These need to be better understood and built into the modelling
processes carried out to predict future scenarios for climate
change. Many current climate models do not include some of the
major feedback mechanisms and, consequently, may underestimate
the climate change scenarios which are likely.
30. Finally, fish stocks throughout the
world, are likely to be affected in differing ways by climate
change impacts. Changes in the distribution of some species are
already reported, with further changes anticipated. The productivity
of some fish stocks is predicted to increase, and to decrease
in others. The effects of environmental change brought about by
climate change on stocks is amplified by the primary pressure
of over-fishing. Over-fishing not only leads to declining stocks
but removes the larger, older individuals that may be better able
to buffer environmental variation. The combined impacts of over-fishing,
climate change and acidification are considerable, and of major
concern to the future of our fisheries and the people who rely
upon this important food source. Therefore, fisheries management
needs to account for these changes, and fishing levels potentially
reduced or changed strategically in response to this added pressure
on stocks to support future economic returns from the fishing
industry. WWF advocates that greater research is carried out into
the sustainable management of fish stocks in the changing climate
where the UK and EU fish in the NE Atlantic, Arctic and through
31. WWF Recommends:
Much greater research into the
impact of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions on the marine
environment, including ocean acidification.
Urgent scientific study of potential
marine changes that could accelerate climate change.
Further research into sustainable
fish management in light of climate change and the development
of policies to respond to this.
32. At present there are no marine sites
of special scientific interest below the low water mark and no
mechanism for establishing them. Protected marine sites have the
potential to act as scientific baselines from which to measure
changes in the wider marine environment. Scientific knowledge
for establishing protected marine areas that are representative
of the UK's marine biodiversity and habitats, however, is lacking
for offshore sites.
33. The UK is a contracting party to the
Oslo-Paris (OSPAR) Convention which requires signatories to designate
an "ecologically coherent" network of nationally important
marine protected areas by 2010. The UK Government is also committed
to introducing a Marine Act, which would enable the designation
of marine protected areas (MPAs).
34. The criteria to establish sites of special
scientific interest provide a sound basis for selection of areas
to protect terrestrial and inter-tidal biodiversity. At present
there is no mechanism to designate marine sites of special scientific
interest below the low water mark. WWF believes a mechanism to
designate and manage nationally important marine sites of scientific
interest are required under the Marine Act. This must also include
a mechanism to designate areas which are highly protected and
closed to human activities.
35. Highly protected marine reserves have
been used in areas of the world as a scientific baseline on which
to monitor and measure impacts of human activities and climate
change. At present in the UK, all sites can be affected by human
activities such as chemical, radioactive and noise pollution.
A suite of highly protected areas are, therefore, urgently needed
to inform science of changes in the marine environment, and to
ensure greater resilience of the marine ecosystem to impacts such
as water quality, fishing and habitat damage which are exacerbated
by climate change.
36. With the approach of the Marine Bill
and the prospect of marine protected areas, there is a clear need
for better research into what areas should be protected, including
how to achieve an ecologically coherent network of protected areas
by 2010 as required by the OSPAR agreement. To inform this process
WWF commissioned a report from the Marine Biological Association
to best identify marine biodiversity hotspots, launched in January
2007. The report trialled the analysis of extensive benthic data
sets using different "hotspot" measurements and gathering
expert knowledge to identify potential areas of marine national
importance. The unevenness in the data sets and unavailability
of other data, due to commercial confidentiality, prevented an
objective comparative analysis.
37. To address the gaps in our knowledge
of what marine wildlife is where:
Many more datasets need to be
accessed, including data collected during a development consent
A minimum standard applied to
marine biological survey methods and results to enable comparison
between marine sites.
Government must invest in new
surveys, where experts highlight our marine wildlife is at greatest
38. In any sites of scientific interest
or within the expected marine protected areas (MPAs), marine features
are likely to need to move due to climate changeinshore
as sea levels rise and north or to cooler water as temperatures
rise. Some species may be lost altogether and features will move
out of the protected areas. The protected sites will, therefore,
require flexibility to be able to respond to changes in the marine
environment. Further marine research will be needed to enable
this flexibility (to inform where changes to boundaries should
be made) and to inform the original designation of the network
of MPAs. Finally, more research is needed to determine what is
meant by an "ecological coherent" network of protected
sites and what should be monitored in order to ensure a healthy,
fully functioning ecosystem.
39. WWF recommends that:
Further research is needed for
the identification of marine sites for protection, as required
by the OSPAR convention, particularly for offshore areas.
Climate Impact Assessment: Synthesis Report, (2005). Ed G
Weller. Cambridge University Press. pp 1-140.
Hiscock, K and Breckels, M 2007. Marine Biodiversity
Hotspots in the UK. A report identifying and protecting areas
for marine biodiversity. WWF UK. www.wwf.org.uk/filelibrary/pdf/marinehotspots.pdf
Kvenvolden, K (1995). A review of the geochemistry
of methane in natural gas hydrate. Organic Geochemistry,
23 (11-12) pp 997-1008.
Long, David (2006). Methane Hydrates (British
Geological Survey) http://www.coastms.co.uk/Conferences/Outputs%20and%20Reports/Climate%20Change%20Nov%202006/Climate%20Change%20Nov%202006%20Long%201.pdf
Milkov AV (2004). Global estimates of hydrate-bound
gas in marine sediments: how much is really out there? EARTH-SCI
REV 66 (3-4) pp 183-197.
New Scientist, 2006. http://environment.newscientist.com/article/dn10845-eu-fishquota-fight-finds-unhappy-compromise.html
Royal Society, 2005. Ocean Acidification due to Rising
Atmospheric CO2. http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/document.asp?id=3249
Seattle Luxury : http://www.seattleluxury.com/encyclopedia/entry/methane_hydrate
UN Atlas of the Oceans. http://www.oceansatlas.org/servlet/CDSServlet?status=ND0zNDYzJmN0bl9p