Marine Science - Science and Technology Committee Contents

1  Introduction

Understanding the oceans

1. Oceans cover over 70% of the Earth's surface, generate 50% of global primary production[1] and hold almost 54 times more carbon than the atmosphere.[2] They are fundamental to sustaining life on Earth.[3] 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".[4] 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 this vision.[5]

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,[6] with UK seas holding over 8500 different species.[7] Protecting this biodiversity is an important part of the Government's vision for the oceans.[8] At present, approximately 4% of UK waters are included in marine protected areas.[9] 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,[10] yet its implementation has caused controversy in some coastal communities.[11]

Our inquiry

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).[12] 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.[13] 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

2  Back

3   UK marine science strategy, HM Government, p4  Back

4   UK marine science strategy p5 Back

5   UK marine science strategy p5 Back

6   UK marine science strategy foreword Back

7  Back

8 p13 Back

9  Back

10   Q 321 [Richard Benyon] Back

11  Back

12   See end of report for full list of witnesses. Back

13   Science and Technology Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2012-13, Proposed merger of British Antarctic Survey and National Oceanography Centre, HC 699 Back

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Prepared 11 April 2013