Science and Technology CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)

0. Declaration of interests

0.1. PML is a NERC National Capability Delivery Partner, and receives significant funding from NERC and Defra on a number of projects and initiatives.

0.2. PML maintains MarineRipple on behalf of Marine Science Coordination Committee.

0.3. Stephen de Mora is an Ad Hominem appointee to the MSCC, Chairs the National Centre for Ocean Forecasting, and is a member of NERC Science Innovation and Strategy Board, Ocean Processes Evidence Group (OPEG), and UK-Integrated Marine Observatory Network (UK-IMON) Executive Board.

0.4. Mel Austen is the Chief Scientific Advisor to the MMO since September 2010. She undertakes this role on a part time basis equivalent to one day per week.

0.5. Dr Steve Widdicombe chairs the Defra appointed Independent Expert Review Group (IERG) and has had a direct involvement in reviewing the processes used by the Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies (SNCB) in providing advice to Government on the designation of recommended Marine Conservation Zones (rMCZs).

1. Since 2007 has there been improved strategic oversight and coordination of marine science?

1.1. NERC financed Oceans 2025, a long-term marine research programme that was multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional in character, the latter point contributing to better collaboration amongst the major marine research establishments in the UK.

1.2. There have been several examples of good cooperation between different competent agencies. NERC and the Met Office collaborate in many ways, including through NCOF. Also, there have been a number of jointly coordinated and funded research initiatives, with a notable example being the NERC-Defra programme in ocean acidification.

1.3. MSCC has initiated the on-going development of the UK—Integrated Marine Observatory Network, which aims to bring together the different monitoring programmes in the UK in order to be more effective, more cost-effective and to facilitate better and easier access to collective marine data.

2. What progress has been made in delivering the 2010 Marine Science Strategy?

2.1. The Strategy is the first to be produced in the UK, and therefore its development and buy-into by all relevant bodies was a significant achievement. As it has only been in place for a very short time, it is probably premature to expect a full implementation and a fulfillment of its vision. However, some principles have been set.

2.2. The strategy aimed to help the UK (a) to be more efficient and effective in using the resource available, (b) to tackle barriers of delivery and (c) to work with industry and international partners. These comments address the three objectives in turn.

2.3. Before the publication of the Strategy, the UK marine science community suffered from a fragmentation in the funding base, separating the organizations that received funding through RCUK and those financed through Defra. This funding fragmentation inevitably filtered through the delivery of science. Since the publication of the strategy, and partially thanks to the formation of the MSCC, the RCUK and Defra have co-funded research, and thus have contributed to reducing fragmentation in the science delivery, increasing efficiency and effectiveness. Examples are the UK Ocean Acidification programme, and the forthcoming UK Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry and UK Marine Ecosystems programmes.

2.4. The marine science community has always been operating in an international context, often providing leadership in vision and implementation. Examples of this are the coordination offices of major international programmes like the WCRP Climate Variability (CLIVAR), the IOC-IGBP Global Oceans Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC) or the IGBP-SCOR Surface Ocean Lower Atmosphere (SOLAS) programmes. It is fair to say that while UK scientists remain well placed to lead international initiatives and coordinate UK science efforts to these, and that the international footprint of UK marine science remains high, the UK has lost some of its international infrastructure in support of international efforts. The three programmes listed above, for example, are not supported by the UK anymore.

3. How effective have the Marine Science Co-ordination Committee (MSCC) and Marine Management Organisation been, and what improvements could be made?

3.1. MSCC has made strides in coordinating marine science across the UK, but in some cases, initiatives are still in their infancy and so difficult to judge success. The interaction with industry is welcome, as is the encouragement to form UK-IMON. Nevertheless, the stewardship of the UK and territories marine environment would be better assured with a dedicated governmental agency, as seen in North America with NOAA (USA) and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Canada).

3.2. Some recent actions serve to improve communications amongst UK marine scientists. These encompass an on-line events diary maintained by the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and MarineRipple, a tweeter-based information system run by PML.

3.3. Since its formation in 2009 the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) has gradually increased its visibility within the scientific community. The MMO participate in the Marine Science Coordination Committee and some of its sub groups as well as the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy. The MMO has developed a Strategic Evidence Plan (SEP) which identifies its scientific advice and research requirements to support its regulatory functions. As well as being shared among the MMO’s partner organisations and agencies the SEP has been made openly available on the MMO web site and has been disseminated at various science meetings and other meetings where scientists are among the stakeholders around the UK.

3.4. More recently the MMO has started the process of commissioning projects to support the SEP. As well as generating interest in research funding from the wider scientific community the commissioning process is likely to have further raised awareness of the work and research requirements of the MMO.

3.5. The MMO has commissioned scientific experts in the wider scientific community as consultants on specific issues, such as the independent Science Advisory Panel providing advice concerning potential environmental impacts of licence applications.

3.6. The increasing visibility of the role of science in supporting MMO’s activities is welcome. We would encourage the MMO to continue to expand their dialogue and interaction with the broader science community as much as possible to (a) ensure that the activities of the MMO are widely understood and hence encourage the research community to undertake research that will support these needs and (b) that the MMO is cognisant of developments in research that can support their activities now and in the future.

3.7. PML has been a recipient of data from the MMO, particularly VMS data on fishing activity and fish and shellfish landings data to support our research activities. Landings and effort data has become increasingly accessible via the MMO web site. Fishing activity monitoring data (satellite Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) and vessel sightings) is made available on request which is a slower process. However, due to the commercial in confidence nature of spatially and temporally resolved VMS data the anonymised finer scale data is much less freely available. This can constrain research effort into the spatial and temporal patterns of use of UK seas including social research into conflicts among marine users and the value of different ecosystem service benefits.

3.8. Marine research is hampered by lack of field data because it can be extremely expensive to obtain. Licence applicants are often required to obtain environmental impact and economic impact data in support of their applications. The MMO has access to much data from public and commercial sources in support of its regulatory activities, especially licencing, fisheries management and planning. The MMO could take a much stronger leading role in encouraging commercial organisations to share their data more freely to facilitate the gain of greater research based understanding of the marine environment and its spatial and temporal variability as well of the social and economic costs and benefits of human use of the marine environment.

4. Has the selection of proposed Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) been based on robust scientific evidence? How well has the scientific evidence been balanced with socio-economic considerations and communicated to affected coastal communities?

4.1. On the whole, the selection of the rMCZs has been based on the best available evidence. That said the actual quantity and quality of the evidence that was available to the SNCBs was not always high. Thus, while the best evidence was used, there is a concern that a number of decisions and proposals have a high degree of uncertainty associated with them. Within the UK there is a serious lack of fundamental evidence concerning the distribution and state of important coastal habitats. Much of the habitat mapping has been based on the physical mapping of features with little data available on the diversity of flora and fauna actually inhabiting these habitats. There is also little appreciation for how these habitats will change naturally through space and time. In addition, there was a lack of data which could adequately determine the extent to which habitats had been impacted by human activities, such as fishing. Indeed, in many cases the state or recoverability of habitats was based solely on knowledge of the pressures that occurred in an area and an assumption of what impacts these pressures would have on the ecosystem. Clearly this is a major weakness in the process.

4.2. Unlike the purely conservation ecology based considerations involved in the designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) the designation of MCZs has relied heavily on input from key marine stakeholders and if anything the balance was skewed towards stakeholder opinion and away from conservation based science. Stakeholder input was heavily influenced by specific sectors (particularly the fishing industry) and more could have been done to engage with other stakeholders. In addition, the socio-economic focus appeared to be on determining how the designation of MCZs would negatively impact local economies with limited consideration as to how increased nature conservation could be used to underpin other social and economic benefits. Finally, within the four regional projects there seemed to be different approaches taken. It would have been better to have a more universal approach to ensure that all areas were considered equally.

4.3. Communication between the SNCBs and local communities was generally good and there was significant use of public consultation at several stages throughout the process.

5. How effectively does the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) support marine science in polar and non-polar regions?

5.1. The most rapidly changing environments in the world are in polar regions. In both the Arctic and Arctic this rapid regional climate change is most clearly manifested in reductions of sea ice and melting of ice sheets, but climatic warming has much wider ramifications with impacts (positive and negative) on ecosystem services. Coupled to the rapid regional climate change at both poles, cold water biota are pre-adapted to low, seasonally stable temperatures and thus sensitive even to slight temperature increases. For these reasons polar environments are of fundamental scientific importance.

5.2. While these generalities unite the Arctic and Antarctic, their scientific histories contrast greatly. The Arctic does not have the same great history of research as the Antarctic. Therefore the unprecedented rates of Arctic climate change, coupled to its proximity to UK waters have posed a major challenge for NERC to address. NERC recognised in the 1990s that marine research efforts in the Arctic were relatively piecemeal, poorly grounded, and lacking in strategic direction. A Workshop on the priorities for UK marine Arctic research in spring 2009 addressed this issue, and since then, large amounts of NERC funds have gone into funding Arctic Research. These include components of the Research Programme (RP) funds from the Ocean Acidification and Arctic programmes.

5.3. The Antarctic, by contrast, benefits from a rich, 90-year history of marine research and a very strong backbone of on-going, sustained marine observation. The costly resourcing of this has been mainly via the ring-fenced funding to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) who both maintain a vital strategic presence in Antarctica at five bases (two of which are at South Georgia) and conduct world-class marine research. In 1999 the “Antarctic Funding Initiative” marked a transfer of some of this funding towards open competition within the UK, for blue skies Antarctic research. This, however, stopped during a series of large recent re-organisations of the BAS, and blue skies Antarctic research funding is now in competition with the whole-NERC grant rounds.

5.4. In the last five years a series of concurrent factors have acted together to fundamentally alter the landscape for NERC-funded polar marine research. Major factors include (a) the present harsh economic regime, coupled to the great expense of polar logistical operations and their sensitivity to variable oil prices, (b) the re-prioritisation of NERC funds which has favoured the so-called Research Programmes but placed pressure on the so-called National Capability, (c) the increased emphasis on Arctic work, (d) a long series of major reorganisations within BAS, most recently an initiative to merge the delivery of UK polar and marine components into a central logistical function at Southampton.

5.5. These changes are on-going and are having both disadvantages as well as advantages. Advantages include better collaboration, harnessing the combined strengths of multiple UK marine institutes to examine major issues within polar waters. This is illustrated, for example by NERC’s RP Thematic on Ocean Acidification, with multi-institute participation in cruises to the Arctic and Antarctic. It also provides NERC with the agility it needs to take high level strategic decisions that respond in a coherent way to pressing issues; this being a major rationale behind Research Programme funding.

5.6. A major disadvantage of the multiple recent changes is the risk of diminishing the UK’s acknowledged role as a world leader in Antarctic research. BAS is becoming increasingly disadvantaged in competing for funds because (a) it is limited in scope to the polar and sub-polar domain and cannot compete for non-polar funding calls, (b) the science proposed is criticised by some reviewers as being expensive and often high risk (compared to non-polar work) and (c) despite a strong track record in some areas (e.g. science underpinning sustainable resource management) the collaborators and stakeholders are international, not UK networked, so leverage for mounting thematic collaborative research programmes calls is reduced.

6. How well are the current and potential impacts of global warming on the oceans (for example temperature changes and acidification) being monitored and addressed by Government and others? [468]

6.1. Long-term observations are essential to detect the impacts of global warming on marine ecosystems. NERC contributes to the funding of these observations through the PML-MBA Western Channel Observatory, which has provided evidence of change since the early 20th century. The WCO provides not just some of the longest time series of physical and biological change in the world’s oceans, but is also the most complete observatory in the world, monitoring all ecosystem components from bacteria to fish, as well as ancillary physical and chemical information. The WCO is part of a national initiative named UKIMON (Integrated Marine Observing Network), coordinated through MSCC.

6.2. PML also coordinates, with NOC, the Atlantic Meridional Transect Programme. The programme, also co-funded through NERC National Capability, has contributed evidence of change in physical, chemical and biological components of the North and South Atlantic for over 20 years.

6.3. Computer models are essential to forecast climate change impacts. NERC recently completed the QUEST programme (Quantifying and Understanding the Earth System), a pioneer programme aiming at establishing strong multidisciplinary research across the natural and social sciences to address societal demands. Unfortunately the completion of QUEST has not maintained a funding base for this cross-disciplinary research. NERC and a number of government departments created the ambitious LWEC (Living with Environmental Change) programme, but funding is extremely limited.

6.4. Some funding from NERC is also devoted to providing National Capability for ecosystem modeling, and PML (as well as other UK players) has benefitted from this investment. It is however essential that modeling is not limited to the living ad non-living components of the marine environment, but include human impacts and societal implications in order for adaptation measures to arise. Currently, this research is not considered to be on the edge of a single scientific discipline, and is therefore penalized in traditional funding modes.

6.5. In the last decade, ocean acidification has emerged as another serious product of anthropogenic CO2 emissions contributing to climate change. The current rate of change in ocean chemistry has not been experienced for 300 million years and could have profound effects on marine ecosystems. NERC, DECC and Defra are jointly funding a five-year (2010–15) UK Ocean Acidification research programme (UKOA) to increasing our understanding of how changes in ocean chemistry impact marine organisms, ecosystems and ecosystem services, and how changes in ocean biogeochemistry feedback to the atmosphere and climate change. As this is a time limited programme, further coordinated UK research is needed to understand how ocean acidification, together with additional stress factors, such as ocean warming and deoxygenation, will synergistically impact the marine environment and its functioning.

6.6. Other nations have invested in ocean acidification research (EU, Germany, US, China, Korea, Australia, Japan). The UK and other countries are providing significant in-kind support to the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre, which will work to manage this growing international research effort. The foundations for an international initiative to monitor and observe ocean acidification globally have been laid which include the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the International Ocean Carbon Coordination Project and the Global Ocean Observing System, as well as national programmes such as UKOA.

6.7. The UK has played a major role in bringing the science of ocean acidification, warming and deoxygenation to policy makers and other stakeholders, contributing to IPCC 4AR and 5AR, the UNFCCC SBSTAs and COPS, CBD, UN-OCEANS, IOC-UNESCO, UNDP, OSPAR, and Rio+20. Ocean acidification and warming are now recognised by all these intergovernmental organisations and, most recently, mentioned in The Oceans Compact. This is an initiative announced by Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, to set out a strategic vision for the UN system to deliver on its ocean-related mandates, consistent with the Rio+20 outcome document “The Future We Want”.

September 2012

Prepared 9th April 2013