1 Introduction |
Understanding the oceans
1. Oceans cover over 70% of the Earth's surface,
generate 50% of global primary production
and hold almost 54 times more carbon than the atmosphere.
They are fundamental to sustaining life on Earth.
Understanding the oceans through marine science is therefore important
to help address the challenges associated with global environmental
change and pressure on natural resources. The Government's ultimate
vision is to achieve "clean, healthy, safe, productive, and
biologically diverse oceans and seas".
By making UK marine science "more efficient and effective",
the Government believes its UK Marine Science Strategy will provide
the understanding of the marine environment that will underpin
2. The limits of current understanding of the marine
environment have been highlighted in the Government's current
work to establish a network of marine protected areas around the
UK. Oceans support 80% of the world's biodiversity,
with UK seas holding over 8500 different species.
Protecting this biodiversity is an important part of the Government's
vision for the oceans.
At present, approximately 4% of UK waters are included in marine
protected areas. To
help protect the marine environment, the Marine and Coastal Access
Act 2009 required UK Administrations to establish a network of
marine protected areas. The Act included powers for the Government
to introduce Marine Conservation Zones, a new type of marine protected
area, which could be used to protect marine wildlife, habitats,
geology and geomorphology. This Act was passed with cross-party
and public support,
yet its implementation has caused controversy in some coastal
3. We launched our inquiry in July 2012. We asked
for evidence about strategic oversight of marine science in the
UK and the UK Marine Science Strategy, the effectiveness of Government
marine science bodies including the Marine Science Coordination
Committee and Marine Management Organisation, the identification
and selection of Marine Conservation Zones, Natural Environment
Research Council (NERC) support for marine science, and current
activity to monitor the effects of global warming on the oceans.
We received over 40 submissions and held five oral evidence sessions,
during which we heard from scientists, conservation groups, industry
groups, NERC and Richard Benyon MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary
of State for Natural Environment, Water and Rural Affairs, Department
for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
We spoke with scientists at the British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge,
and National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool, about their work.
We also heard from stakeholders in Falmouth and Liverpool about
how the Marine Conservation Zone selection process had been carried
out in their area. We are grateful to those who provided evidence
and hosted our visits to Cambridge, Liverpool and Falmouth.
4. Our call for evidence also asked about NERC support
for science in polar regions. We commented on issues related to
this topic in our report on the Proposed merger of the British
Antarctic Survey and National Oceanography Centre.
We intend to return to this issue, and other issues in marine
and polar science, during future evidence sessions. We are particularly
interested in following up issues relating to technological developments
for studying the oceans. In this report, we comment principally
on strategic oversight and coordination of marine science by Government
and how NERC supports work in this field. We focus on the designation
process for Marine Conservation Zones as a particularly important
policy issue in which marine science has played a central role.
We then consider broader issues relating to data collection at
sea and long-term monitoring programmes.
1 The production of organic compounds from atmospheric
or aquatic carbon dioxide, which forms the base of the food chain. Back
UK marine science strategy, HM Government, p4 http://www.defra.gov.uk/mscc/files/uk-marine-science-strategy-.pdf
UK marine science strategy p5 Back
UK marine science strategy p5 Back
UK marine science strategy foreword Back
Q 321 [Richard Benyon] Back
See end of report for full list of witnesses. Back
Science and Technology Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2012-13,
Proposed merger of British Antarctic Survey and National Oceanography
Centre, HC 699 Back