Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 38

Submission from the Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology (IMarEST)


  Following a description of IMarEST, the submission outlines the importance of the oceans as a resource and the significance of government in promoting coordination of marine research. In answer to the questions posed by the committee the response stresses that:

    —  There are gaps in our fundamental scientific knowledge of climate variability

    —  There is a need for coordination and funding of sustained marine measurements

    —  Priorities must be defined for marine measurements

    —  There is a need for investment in biological sciences and increased support for UK marine biotechnology

    —  It is imperative that the UK increases its support for the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS)

    —  Marine Science education must be supported and developed in schools

    —  There is potential value in the designation of marine areas as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI's) or Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)


  The IMarEST is the international professional membership organisation and learned society for all marine professionals working in marine, coastal and offshore environments and supporting industries. The Institute, based in London, was originally formed in 1889 as the professional body for marine engineers and is today the overarching body bringing together professionals from across all the marine disciplines. The IMarEST currently has over 15,000 members with around half based in the United Kingdom. The IMarEST's role is to promote the scientific development and inter-disciplinary understanding for Marine Science, Engineering and Technology and to uphold and advance the knowledge of professionals across the international marine community.

  The IMarEST Technical Affairs Committee was formed to establish clear technical views and policies on global marine matters and to bring these views to the attention of the members of the IMarEST, relevant government, industry, regulatory bodies, educational and professional bodies and the general public in appropriate cases. The Committee consists of experts in many areas such as Climatology, Oceanography and Marine Meteorology, Ports and Harbours, Naval Engineering and Living Resources.


  1. The oceans are of vital importance to society;

    —  As a fundamental driver of weather and climate

    —  As a source of vast hydrocarbon energy resources (oil and gas)

    —  As a future source of renewable energy (wind, wave and tide)

    —  As a critical source of minerals, food and chemicals.

    —  With a major role in transport, world trade, communications and recreation.

  2.  With increasing multiple uses of the oceans and a move towards planning systems similar to those seen on land it is imperative that a marine science evidence base is developed which can be utilised by the UK government to provide fact based decision making tools for policy makers.

  3.  Planned policy development ie The Marine Bill, The European Marine Strategy and the European Maritime Policy provides an opportunity for UK Government to act as a coordinated customer for the science it funds. The Marine Bill will no doubt place DEFRA at the forefront as a customer. However, it is essential that UK government as a whole is committed to understanding, commissioning and coordinating marine science for its policy and operational needs. For example, marine science can be used to make improvements to efficiency and safety of shipping through improved weather forecasting for ship routing (Department for Transport), and provide support for the offshore energy industry by, for example, providing evidence of the benefits of disposing of obsolete rigs as a reefs (DTI). The Interagency Committee for Marine Science and Technology (IACMST) provides a vital role in bringing together the departments. It also essential that industry is also engaged with government and the scientific community.

  4.  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.

  5.  To sustain the vital resources provided by the oceans, stewardship of the marine environment must be promoted and reinforced at all levels of government. Government must promote the message that the health of the oceans rests with the entire community. To ensure this government must be committed to broadening its acceptance of the duty of care for marine heritage and to promoting marine science education for all.

Q1.  Organisation and funding of UK marine science in the polar and non-polar regions


  6.  The executive summary of the POST report 128, July 1999 highlighted the main objectives of a national strategy for Marine Science and Technology up until around 2020. These were: environmental protection, exploitation of ocean resources, national defence, prediction of climate change and its effects, marine technology and statutory and regulatory obligations. It may be prudent to assume that these objectives have not changed over the last 7 years but there is now more scientific evidence available to us in order to be able to prioritise these goals logically.

  7.  Described as "mankind's greatest threat" and "the ultimate weapon of mass destruction" there is global acceptance we must act now to mitigate and adapt to climate change. However, it should not be forgotten that significant gaps still exist in our fundamental scientific knowledge. How the oceans influence natural climate variability and long term anthropogenic change and how these changes impact on the oceans are still not well understood. The formation of the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP) was a positive step towards coordinating UK Marine Climate Change research and activity and should be supported.

  8.  The 1st annual MCCIP report card highlighted the significant gaps in our scientific knowledge, including the impact of changes in, and on, ocean salinity, potential changes to storminess and waves, the effect of climate change on large scale oceanic processes, the impact on fish and marine mammals and changes to seabed ecology. Knowledge of the impact of climate change on commercial activities is also limited, which means we don't know what the implications of climate change are for shipping, ports, offshore structure design criteria and effects on aquaculture.


  9.  Measurements of the open ocean are essential for a thorough understanding of weather and climate. It is somewhat counterintuitive that ocean observations are therefore vital for land activities such as agriculture, forestry, water supplies, energy supplies, construction and transportation. It is more widely appreciated that ocean temperature, currents and salinity have profound effects on marine ecosystems. The effectiveness of marine climate services is dependent on the quality of the network that delivers the basic observational data, alongside the forecasting and prediction models and a delivery system which allows effective use by end users and policy makers.

  10.  These basic requirements underlie the case for a Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) that will be the marine component of the proposed Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS), the call for which is supported by the G8. As has been made plain in 2005/6 by IACMST, the requisite network of ocean observations in and adjacent to UK waters and in areas of interest to the UK is not yet in place, depriving the UK information end user community of value, and causing the UK to lag behind other nations in its commitments to both the GOOS and the GEOSS.

  11.  UK marine science needs to be organised in a more coherent fashion, through a plan agreed by all departments and agencies, to ensure (i) that value is added by each observation made, (ii) that duplication of effort is avoided, and (iii) that gaps in geographic coverage or in technology are filled. To meet the fundamental needs of a diverse information user community the UK needs to improve the flow of information from both the open ocean and the coastal ocean.

  12.  It is essential that the UK commits to long term funding of ocean and coastal observations.

Continued development also is required in advanced numerical models of the ocean, the ocean-ice-atmosphere system, and the ocean ecosystem. The UK government needs to recognise that processes in the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans drive the climate system and as such, should invest more in studying the nature and variability of these processes. It is imperative that measurement and monitoring funded by the UK as contributions to the International Polar Year are sustainable and not simply seen as short term research projects.


  13.  The UK should commit to (in order of importance)

  Open Ocean

    —  Deployment of 45+ Argo profiling floats per year to contribute to the global network of subsurface ocean data for ocean and climate models

    —  Maintenance of the Atlantic Meridional Transect (A programme which undertakes biological, chemical and physical oceanographic research during the annual return passage of the RRS James Clark Ross between the UK and the Falkland Islands or the RRS Discovery between the UK and Cape Town)

    —  Maintenance of the national tide gauge network

    —  Support for the expansion of the continuous plankton recorder programme

    —  Collection of Carbon Dioxide data from ships drifting buoys and transects

    —  Collation of a Met Office buoy with and Porcupine Abyssal Plain subsurface mooring

    —  Deployment of additional drifting buoys outside the North Atlantic, and sea ice buoys, especially in both polar regions

    —  Digitising the historical collections of ocean data in the National Archive (Kew)

Coastal Ocean

    —  Repeated hydrographic survey lines across the UK margin to establish regional properties and change

    —  Creation of a coastal HF radar network to obtain wave and current data

    —  Increasing the geographical and vertical coverage of measurements of plankton, nutrients, dissolved oxygen and organic matter, and total suspended matter

    —  Investment in advanced numerical models used to determine the best locations for observations to be made and to establish where there is redundancy, duplication and where more measurements are needed

    —  Deployment of sampling equipment on many ferry lines

  14.  Nationally consistent monitoring and data gathering must be coordinated at a central government level with an appropriate level of funding. To gain full benefit the quality controlled data gathered by the UK must be made readily available within the framework of the EU Inspire Directive and UK commitments to other international data exchange initiatives.


  15.  Whereas funding of oceanography is significant for climate change impact studies, the biological sciences should not be forgotten. It is fair to say that there is shrinking budget for fisheries research, and for marine biodiversity studies. While the UK Marine Bill will no doubt feature heavily the policy goals of obtaining "healthy, biologically diverse seas" there is little idea of what constitutes "healthy" and "diverse". This difficulty will be compounded by directives from Europe requiring the UK to achieve good ecological status, something which, again, is difficult to define.


  16.  Oceans 2025 is an excellent initiative that, with £120 million in funding over five years, should greatly improve the coordination of marine scientific research within the UK. However, there are concerns about over-reliance on "government labs" (ie NERC labs and fisheries labs) to deliver all the marine science required. The government-funded labs have to deliver specific research for government, eg data for Europe on fish stocks, and water quality, but are increasingly having to find "consultancy" type work to make ends meet. This tends to reduce their opportunities for novel, questions-driven marine research of the kind that is commonly found in university departments. Any decline in fundamental research, whether in government or university labs, will be detrimental, in the long term, to the standing of the UK in the global marine science arena.

  17.  Finally, it is the view of the marine scientific industry, that there is strong evidence that much of the £100 million spent by government to create spin-off companies has been ineffective. Many of the marine technology transfer offices set up by academic organizations are excessively bureaucratic and barely cover their own costs. The current scheme which encourages and funds academics to exploit their research and technology is often ineffective and can even be damaging to existing businesses where unfair competition may be the result. Nevertheless it is recognized that good ideas for exploitable technologies do arise in academic and government labs; ideally these labs should be encouraged to work in partnership with industry to "design for manufacture", so as to make their inventions saleable.

  18.  As an enthusiastic supporter of commercial exploitation the government should engage more with the private sector in order to make a true commercial success of technology transfer.

2.  The role of the UK internationally, and international collaboration in marine science

  19.  The UK makes a contribution to the management of, and observations for, Global Ocean Observing System that underpins weather and climate forecasting worldwide. At present the GOOS is only around 50% developed. Therefore, the UK's investment in observations should be doubled to meet the increasing requirement for detailed and accurate information in support of global sustainable development, as called for by the World Summit on Sustainable Development, 2002. Observations are needed in particular in remote locations, especially in polar seas that are difficult to access. The UK must continue shared funding of the European Space Agency's (ESA) programme of measurements of the open ocean and increase funds to ESA for new sensors (eg salinity).

  20.  The UK should take a stronger lead in supporting international operational observations of the oceans. Especially important in the context of climate forecasting is maintenance of the network of satellite altimeters which make crucial observations of ocean circulation. At present there is a critical gap between existing missions (which are near to the end of their design lives) and replacement missions (which are not scheduled for launch until 2013).

  21.  The UK also plays a key role in influencing the directions taken by UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the main international body for marine science and lead agency for the GOOS.

  22.  The UK marine science community should play a stronger role in the work of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) which is the only UN agency based in the UK. The community should provide more effective support to the UK delegation from the Department for Transport and the UK's interests represented by a number of Non Governmental Organisations including the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology. The IMO strives to achieve both improved maritime safety and environmental protection which must be backed by sound science and requires a much more joined up approach between government departments. Of particular relevance are the issues of invasive species, ship emissions and ship recycling.

  23.  The UK must take a lead in developing "green" ship technologies. It must develop a stronger capability for recycling and environmentally friendly decommissioning and recycling of ships. The development of decision support systems for the management of ballast water and associated treatment techniques to minimise the transfer of alien species must be encouraged. However, of utmost importance is the engagement of the Marine Science community in areas broader than their specific area of research.

3.  Support for marine science, including provision and development of technology and engineering

  24.  The ocean is like outer space—an environment that is difficult and costly to reach and hostile to work in. It has the added disadvantage that it is largely non-transparent beyond depths of around 100 meters. As a consequence we know far less about the bottom of the sea than we do about the surface of Mars, which has been photographed in detail. We also know very little about life in the sea beyond the sunlit zone, yet it seems highly likely, given that there are many more phyla in the ocean than on land, that the prospects of finding medically useful chemical compounds there is more or less unlimited. The sea is a biotechnological frontier waiting to be exploited. Discovery and exploitation demand novel technologies. As in outer space, scientists are limited in what they can do without technological assistance. Ocean science is blind without ocean technology.

  25.  Of significance perhaps is the omission of pharmaceutical, biotechnology and genetic resources from the POST report of 1999. This demonstrates how rapidly this area is developing. UK government must realise the potential of marine biotechnology industries and provide a similar level of backing to that typical of terrestrial biotechnology industries. There is potential for marine biotechnological products to be used as anti-cancer agents, for bulk chemicals such as adhesives, for feed additives for aquaculture, and for remediation of environmental damage. The completion of the NERC funded Marine and Freshwater Microbial Biodiversity (M&FMB) programme (2000-05) leaves a potential gap in linkages between industry participants and research providers. A five year funding timescale for such projects is unsuitable due to the lack of understanding of new products (by both governments and potential users) and the long lead times for screening, testing and development. It is estimated that the UK currently supports 93 % of the publicly funded bioscience companies in Europe of which most are predominantly terrestrial based. This is an industry which should received continued support to expand into marine research.

4.  The state of the UK research and skills base underpinning marine science and provision and skills to maintain and improve the UK's position in marine science

  26.  There exists a general difficulty in persuading students to follow a career in science and technology and in particular the marine sciences. The UK is still affected by the so called "Cousteau Effect" (or what might nowadays be termed the "Attenborough Effect"") with large number of people wishing to study Marine Biology as opposed to the physical sciences. However, universities are constantly struggling to bring in students with the right level of numerical skills now needed for the biological sciences (such is the integration of ecosystem modelling). Although the UK government is committed to promoting science and engineering in schools (following the Roberts report, 2002), how marine science fits into the picture is unclear. Marine science is typically integrated into the geography syllabus, or even, citizenship, as opposed to being incorporated into the traditional sciences. This is something that government should seek to review.

  27.  Alongside a review into the correct place for marine science education, more attention is needed to increase teacher confidence in teaching "unusual subjects"". This could be done through an emphasis on training in marine subjects and the development of appropriate teaching materials with practical applications. The UK government must also seek to support careers initiatives in Marine Science, Engineering and Technology. It is vital that school aged children are aware of the heritage aspects of the marine environment in order to understand their duty of care towards its protection.

  28.  At a higher education level training provision is currently lagging behind employer need. IMarEST is discussing with IACMST how to identify these and similar future needs, and what strategies should be implemented to meet them; we suggest more effort should be focused on this issue.

  29.  Streamlining and reorganisation in recent decades have pared the UK's oceanographic research base to the bone. What he have left is a hard core that could form the nucleus of a programme expanded to provide added value for the wide UK users of ocean information (which includes the land sectors mentioned above). A better developed UK marine science base could support an expanded UK marine information sector that could form the basis for an expanded UK marine services sector. Given the inevitable decline in North Sea service requirements over time, as oil wells dry up, developing a more outwardly directed UK marine services sector at this time would seem wise, along with an expanded skills and research base to serve its needs. As an island nation, it would be surprising and unfortunate if the UK did not exploit its maritime knowledge to the full in this way.

5.  Use of marine sites of special scientific interest

  30.  It is first imperative to decide whether a site is being designated as a site of special scientific interest or a marine protected area as each will be subject to different legislation (ie Wildlife and Countryside Act versus a Marine Bill). There is also confusion with sites being defined as particularly sensitive seas areas by the IMO.

  31.  SSSI's are a very poor tool for the delivery of conservation in marine areas (including the intertidal area) and the proposed Marine Bill provides the opportunity to develop a more appropriate and effective regime for the UK marine area.

  32.  In an integrated management regime a site, whether an SSS or an MPA, should have a regime that delivers multiple benefits to society. So, for example, if a site is designated due to the presence of an historic wreck, but is also then a fish nursery, then the management plan should take this into consideration, which may actually reduce the need to designate an additional area for the protection of the fish habitat ie explicit consideration of multiple management objectives should lead to fewer protected areas and a lower total area under "high protection" than if each objective were pursued in isolation.

  33.  It is vital that economic and social factors should be taken into account and they should be a fundamental inclusion. Underlying principles must be properly implemented. There should not be a presumed preference for conservation; all considerations should include economic and social requirements in equal measures. This is required to meet the government's objectives of sustainable development.


  The information provided represents the views of the IMarEST Technical Affairs Committee and not necessarily the views of the IMarEST membership as a whole.

  The IMarEST Marine Voices campaign provides the platform of opportunity for professionals to discuss and exchange ideas and practices, and promotes the scientific development of marine engineering, science and technology

May 2007

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