Science and Technology CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Marine Biological Association

Summary of Main Points

1. There has not been a clear and obvious improvement in the coordination of marine science as a result of the establishment of the Marine Science Coordination Committee (MSCC).

2. Some progress has been made in delivering the Marine Science Strategy mainly in the area of communications.

3. The effectiveness of the MSCC is hampered by limited funding, narrow representation and a lower profile than would be expected.

4. For Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) we identify that “robust scientific evidence” to be able to design an “ecologically coherent network” can refer to what we know about:

(a)ecosystem structure and function and processes,

(b)what marine habitats and species occur where in UK waters, and

(c)what it is important to protect (because of rarity, decline, sensitivity)

5. We conclude that we do not know enough to be “formulaic” in designing a site series but that the objective of an “ecologically coherent network” was anyway unnecessarily ambitious compared to a more achievable objective of identifying and protecting a representative series of sites that included the most threatened and best examples of habitats and species. With regard to “socio-economic considerations”, we conclude that everything possible was done to include users of the marine environment in the site selection process but that biodiversity conservation came second both in timing and importance.

General Comments and Declaration on Interest

6. The Marine Biological Association (MBA) is a Learned Society established in 1884. The MBA has about 1,200 members (including international members) and runs The Laboratory in Plymouth where approximately 60 scientific staff work. MBA members have been at the forefront of providing scientific information to support marine environment protection, management and education and much of the scientific information that underpins decision-making about environmental protection has come from work undertaken at the Laboratory.

7. Declaration of interest: The MBA has applied for and receives funding from some of the organizations mentioned in this submission including the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Marine Management Organization (MMO). The MBA has also had considerable involvement in the Marine Science Coordination Committee; has undertaken contract work to identify biodiversity hotspots and to contribute to the “Evidence” project just completed as a part of the MCZ process; and represented science interests on the Stakeholder Group of Finding Sanctuary. Dr Keith Hiscock (MBA Associate Fellow) was an independent member of the Marine Protected Areas Science Advisory Panel. However, the MBA believes there is no conflict of interest affecting the comments provided as this submission reflects the views of the members of the learned society, not just MBA staff members who may have benefited from the aforementioned funding bodies or who are engaged directly with the activities mentioned above.

Select Committee Questions (detail)

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

8. Since the MSCC replaced the Inter-Agency Committee on Marine Science and Technology (IACMST) there have been some improvements as the MSCC has a clearer remit and a more defined reporting structure. Despite this there has been little evidence of “improved coordination” of marine science although whether this is down to a lack of progress or just that evidence of progress has not been communicated is unknown.

9. There are a number of useful activities supported by the MSCC which will contribute to better coordination and strategy such as the United Kingdom—Integrated Marine Observing Network (UK-IMON) and the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP) report on marine climate knowledge gaps. However, these activities were developed initially outwith the MSCC and these projects are also focused on single aspects of marine science coordination and strategic direction rather than overall coordination at a UK level.

10. A difficulty with evaluating coordination occurs due to the integration of the MSCC with the United Kingdom Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS). UKMMAS has been successful in both coordinating long-term marine monitoring programmes and linking science with policy needs (eg delivering the requirements of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive). UKMMAS was overseen by the Marine Assessment Policy Committee (MAPC). When the MAPC and MSCC merged it was never made clear how the new merged committee functioned and whether its TORs had changed. The old MAPC was largely concerned with the policy drivers for marine monitoring and the MSCC has a wider remit, coordinating UK marine science; so which remit remains?

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

11. Delivery has been more effective in some areas than others. However, it is also not clear how “delivering the strategy” is being measured (and by whom)?

12. Concerning specific priorities of the science strategy, making the process for funding sustained long-term monitoring more transparent has clearly not been accomplished. The MSCC Long-Term Monitoring Work Group established to address this issue failed to provide any clear outputs: a report was produced but there has been no further progress or implementation. The funding for long-term monitoring is still opportunistic and piecemeal.

13. Another priority area of the Science Strategy is communications. There has been clear progress on this and the communications element of the strategy is being delivered. The MBA has been involved in helping with better coordination of communication activities through, for example, its establishment of a UK Marine Science Events Calendar and a number of other activities are underway. The communications group has worked by developing a clear plan with prioritized objectives, being realistic about its resources (i.e. extremely limited funding) and targeting “quick-win” deliverables.

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

14. The MSCC has provided a very useful mechanism for focusing on a marine science strategy at a UK level. It has not been effective as it could be however as:

(a)The MSCC seems to have a large remit but with few resources to undertake the work required. Having served on two of the MSCC committees, it is clear that the amount that can be achieved is limited by not being able to provide even modest funds to support activities.

(b)The MSCC also lacks adequate funding to facilitate engagement. The delivery of much of the strategy is based on the goodwill of the marine science community. This automatically limits the involvement of and contributions from the wider science community. It does not have a high visibility and is not well-known enough among the marine science academic community. The main committee consists of a large number of government departments, SNCBs and executive agencies. As regards representation therefore, the MSCC seems to be rather narrow. The MSCC should represent the “entire marine community” but there is very little knowledge of what the MSCC is. Many marine scientists are not even aware of its existence, much less what it does. There needs to be much wider representation on the committee. For example, why task scientists on the committee with engaging marine industry rather than have a high level industry representative actually sit on the committee to begin with? The same can be said for NGOs, HEIs and other groups with which the committee would like to engage.

15. The MMO delivers many previous disparate functions, so overall the establishment of the agency has been a success. However, it is still worth noting that there is a perception among the marine community that (a) there are very limited funds available for the MMO to carry out its work and (b) that the agency is still therefore mainly reliant on CEFAS with limited opportunities for other marine scientists to engage.

16. The MMO should have a list of all projects with details of funding and project outcomes on its website. This would mirror what Defra does on its website and enable greater transparency.

Has the selection of proposed Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) been based on robust scientific evidence?

17. Network “design”: the principles/criteria used to design a “network” of marine protected areas (of which MCZs are a part) came mainly from OSPAR and may therefore be considered as “required”. However, the OSPAR “Ecological criteria/considerations” which followed well-established site selection criteria for nature conservation (and for which a great deal of robust scientific information was available) were far more useful and relevant than the later and more scientifically difficult “Network design principles” that were used in the MCZ Ecological Network Guidance (ENG). The interpretation of those design principles as quantitative measures was scientifically naïve and did not benefit from knowledge of ecological processes and ecological functioning in particular. All-in-all, the process of site selection/design was made more difficult than it needed to be. The review of the developing ENG seems to have been internal within the SNCBs and may not have involved independent marine conservation scientists. Commissioned reports came too late in a rushed process to adjust approaches and the Science Advisory Panel played only a late and minor role in reviewing the final draft of the ENG. There was also an unwillingness on the part of the SNCBs to accept that some criteria were unrealistic or uninformed by relevant science—for instance, OSPAR had, early in its process, virtually “dismissed” connectivity as a design criterion except where “a specific path between identified places is known” (“Principle 9”) and “viability” as size seemed to have been derived by the SNCBs from measures of larval dispersal distances, not what makes an area or population of a species “viable”. However, our comments are not meant to encourage more research on connectivity or viability but just to take a more measured approach to identifying meaningful criteria based on current knowledge.

18. Site selection: Information on what features occurred where was not adequately looked-for by the Regional Projects, perhaps in part because their personnel did not include marine ecologists with relevant experience. Furthermore, the MCZ site selection process was well-advanced when the results of the assessment of biodiversity hotspots became available and what should have been a leading source of relevant information, was not adequately taken account of.

19. Best available (scientific) evidence: A major problem for the MCZ project was knowing where particular habitats and species occurred. Knowledge of the physical character of the seabed and of the distribution of species is sparse and patchy at best and absent for many areas of our seas including some inshore areas. Predictive modelling did not work and the MCZ process was left with large areas of seabed and many pMCZs where the confidence in what was there was very low. The Regional Projects and subsequent studies still have not taken advantage of all of the evidence available and, unwisely, old data that, for many habitats, will still be relevant may be being set-aside. Properly, the design criteria indicated use of “best available evidence” but the interpretation of that “best available evidence” should have majored on applying selection to areas where there was evidence of the presence of representative habitats and features of conservation importance.

20. Another aspect of evidence relates to the impacts of bottom trawling on level sedimentary seabed and the difficulty of finding areas that might be unimpacted, therefore best candidates as MCZs to act as reference areas in the future. It seems likely that, although previously un-trawled seabeds may have been rich in species and highly productive, their character will now have changed and what they will or might recover to if bottom trawling is prohibited is uncertain. More work is needed including with historic data to provide a better idea of productivity and character including any potential benefits to fisheries of protected areas—MCZs that represent sedimentary habitats and where bottom trawling is prohibited provide the opportunity to understand what such changes might be.

21. Choosing between prospective sites: The Regional Projects identified alternative sites with the same broadscale habitats and features. However, the process of deciding which would be the best for biodiversity conservation was poorly carried out. Matters such as the presence of rare, scarce, in decline or threatened with decline species or biotope richness or a high species richness should have been used more effectively. It was very strange that high biodiversity and high productivity were a secondary consideration (“Additional Ecological Importance”) in the ENG and seemed to be rarely used to decide between sites.

22. Information resources: The information needed to assist the selection of MCZs will, of course, never be complete but efforts were made during the process, especially with regard to identifying the locations of “features of conservation importance”, to make it as complete as possible. Nevertheless, more effort is needed to improve the “touchstones” that are needed not only for site selection but, more especially now, site management.

How well has the scientific evidence [for the selection of pMCZs] been balanced with socio-economic considerations and communicated to affected coastal communities?

23. The MBA provided scientific input to the Finding Sanctuary (FS) Steering Group and Stakeholder Group. FS and the other Regional Projects made the most significant possible effort to engage sea users in understanding what the MCZ project was about.

24. However, the process of determining site locations started before ecological information had been assembled and the significance of available information seemed to be “lost” on many of the FS staff. Whilst the science input from MBA personnel and others with relevant marine biological experience was important, they could not always be present at stakeholder meetings. There were too few independent experienced and objective (unbiased) scientists involved in the process. Representatives from industry (especially the fishing industry) influenced much decision making about locations, possibly more-so than ecological considerations. Domination by socio-economic considerations meant in particular that the identification of Reference Areas (where no extraction or deposition would be allowed) stalled.

25. There is a view that scientific evidence (perhaps especially the application of the ENG criteria) dominated a process that was supposed to be based on stakeholder involvement and compromise. Whether or not that happened is a key consideration but our views are based on poor or incomplete use of the available science and draw attention to where improvements in the science are needed.

26. The case for each pMCZ could be much better made than is allowable within the required parts of the ENG. In particular, there are many more species of conservation importance likely to be present at a location than those that are listed as “Features”.

27. During the MCZ selection process, the likely or possible fishery benefits from protected areas seems not to have been sufficiently taken into account. However, paragraph 21 above relating to absence or paucity of evidence is relevant.

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

28. NERC have always supported marine science although there is concern over funding cuts coupled with ineffective delivery mechanisms in many areas of the marine science programme.

29. Overall it appears that far from improving the delivery of strategic marine science NERC has implemented changes that are severely affecting its timely progress. The reduced amount of funding for strategic marine science is a clear problem, however the mechanism currently operating to deliver that funding also has severe shortcomings. NERC has recently moved from supporting longer term strategic research programmes across multiple marine research institutes and HEIs, eg Oceans 2025 (2007–12), to funding more narrow Theme Action Plans (TAPs) addressing a strategic science issue (eg Marine Renewables). The principal problems with this process have been that too few projects have been developed by NERC Theme Leaders with the marine community, resulting in an underuse of expertise within the existing marine science base. Furthermore, for those TAPs that have been developed the road to a “Call for Proposals” can be a long one, which may in some cases have taken a number of years (eg Marine Biodiversity TAP).

30. MBA feels there is need for a thorough review of the effectiveness with which NERC Themes support the marine science programme, particularly in the area of marine biodiversity. Key issues to consider are the needs for demonstrating transparency in how strategic issues are identified and developed, ensuring timeliness of the development process, and that there is some broad parity across NERC Themes in the number of TAPs developed.

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?

31. The Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP) is a key government initiative which acts as an independent broker of knowledge of climate and the marine environment. This along with a number of funded major research programmes means the UK is leading the way in studies of climate change and the oceans. However, MCCIP in particular is reliant upon the knowledge and expertise of marine scientists actively engaged in research on climate change and its impacts. To a large degree this research capability is underpinned not only by modelling but by long-term monitoring programmes of physical and biological measurements of the sea. Some of these UK programmes are over 100 years long and provide data of unparalleled importance for understanding past change, a knowledge which is used to inform modelling studies aimed at predicting future changes. Therefore there is a pressing need to maintain UK long-term monitoring programmes. Unfortunately these programmes have faced severe funding cuts recently which put their future in jeopardy. For example NERC did not ring-fence marine monitoring programmes in their latest funding review which meant that certain programmes received a 10–20% cut in funding despite having highly supportive scientific reviews. It seems quite likely that some UK marine time series will be degraded to such an extent that they will be rendered useless if more funding is not made available.

September 2012

Prepared 9th April 2013