Science and Technology CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST)

Executive Summary

An independent, well-funded, and empowered national marine agency is necessary.

Strategic oversight and coordination of marine science are not much improved since 2007.

The UK-Integrated Marine Observing Network requires support.

Little progress has been made in delivering the 2010 Marine Science Strategy.

The MSCC has been largely ineffective, due to, e.g. inadequate funding, incomplete marine sectoral representation, lack of autonomy, extensive internal approval process, a plethora of bureaucracy and an over-complicated committee structure.

The MSCC should fully utilise the capabilities of marine-focused Learned and Professional Societies.

The NERC does not support marine science in polar and non-polar regions effectively.

The NERC suffers from poor strategic planning on marine issues and inadequate engagement with marine industry, hindering its ability to implement exceptional R&D.

The NERC must address the document “Setting Course: A Community Vision and Priorities for Marine Research,” developed by the National Oceanography Centre Association, and provide adequate funding for the objectives set out.

Reducing scientific and technological staff and research funding of marine, geological and polar institutes may bring a short-term, small financial benefit, but that benefit is both negated and outweighed by the long-term financial costs of regaining skills, staff, and strategic advantage.

The focus on UK waters must not preclude the UK from fulfilling its international marine obligations and commitments.

Current and potential impacts of global warming on the oceans are inadequately monitored and addressed by Government.

Continued and preferably increased support for UK marine science and technology, marine scientists and technologists, and their home institutions is essential to, e.g. predict weather and climate, assess the marine environment, preserve life, mitigate anthropogenic changes in the marine and coastal environment, and to advance the scientific understanding that makes this possible.


1. The IMarEST is an international professional membership organisation and learned society for all marine professionals working in marine, coastal and offshore environments and supporting industries. The Institute, with Headquarters in London, currently has nearly 15,000 members; around half are based in the United Kingdom. The IMarEST promotes scientific development and inter-disciplinary understanding of Marine Science, Technology and Engineering and enhances the knowledge of professionals across the international marine community.

2. The IMarEST provided two sets of evidence to the 2007 Inquiry into Marine Science: on behalf of the Membership and the Marine Information Alliance Ltd., respectively. Professor Ralph Rayner provided oral evidence on behalf of the Institute. A response was sent to the Government following its response to the Select Committee’s report “Investigating the Oceans”. Many of the concerns expressed in this response remain today.1

3. Following the Government’s response to the Select Committee, the IMarEST canvassed the UK membership of professional and learned bodies for the marine engineering, science and technology sector by an e-survey distributed to professionals drawn from industry, academia and government that covered all the marine disciplines.

4. As well as seeking general comments on the Report’s recommendations, the survey asked:

Do you generally endorse the recommendations contained in the Select Committee Report?

Do you specifically support the need for an independent marine agency to replace and broaden the limited coordination role performed by the present Inter Agency Committee for Marine Science and Technology?

5. The overwhelming response was general endorsement of the Report’s recommendations and a strong endorsement of the need for an independent marine agency (91% and 90% of respondents, respectively). Almost all respondents expressed their dissatisfaction and concern that the Government rejected the central recommendation for a marine agency and many of the other specific recommendations made by the Select Committee.

6. The Government proposal for a Marine Science Co-ordination Committee (MSCC) had similarities to the Government of the day’s response to the earlier Select Committee report on these matters (Second Report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, Marine Science and Technology, HL47, Session 1985–86). Yet it was the decision not to implement the core recommendations of this earlier report and to ignore many of the recommendations of the Committee set up to establish what became the Inter-Agency Committee on Marine Science and Technology (IACMST) that led to many of the deficiencies that the 2007 Select Committee sought to overcome and that still exist. The case for strengthened coordination and additional funding is now even more pressing than in 1985 and 2007. Therefore, since the original survey was conducted, the Institute has no reason to believe that the views of the respondents have changed.

7. The IMarEST considers that the MSCC does not fulfil the recommendations made in the Select Committee’s Report of 2007. The report made a robust case for strengthened coordination and additional funding. The MSCC remains hugely under-resourced and, despite best efforts of its highly capable secretariat, does not have the funding, staff resources and executive power to play an effective role in wide coordination. Furthermore, the MSCC is narrow in representation, especially from industry/users, and lacks extensive independent membership from the non-public sector and those not ultimately dependent on public money.

Answers to Specific Questions

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

8. The IMarEST respondents, particularly those working within the private sector, consider that little change has occurred since 2007.

9. Encouraging individual developments include the establishment of the UK-Integrated Marine Observing Network (UK-IMON) at the MSCC’s request. Many marine data are collected for non-statutory purposes, but co-ordination between statutory and non- statutory organisations is currently limited. Improving this co-ordination could enhance the quality and spatio-temporal coverage of data cost-effectively, augment our knowledge and understanding of the marine environment, and make assessment of its condition more robust. Initially the UK-IMON is to promote co-ordination and integration of non-statutory UK marine monitoring/observing programmes. The ultimate aim is a fully operational single UK-IMON. It is too soon to assess whether this initiative will benefit industry end-users and society, but this assessment, with quantification of any benefits, should be formally scheduled. It is critical that the focus on UK waters does not preclude the UK from fulfilling its international obligations/commitments. (See also paragraph 24.)

10. The IMarEST re-iterates its original concerns that the current MSCC is less inclusive than its predecessor IACMST. It is unclear whether the MSCC is dealing with issues relating to co-ordination of marine technology. (See also paragraph 13.)

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

11. It is unclear what is meant by the term delivery, and to whom this delivery is contemplated.

12. After discussions on developing and launching a Marine Science Strategy began, the NERC reviewed its investments in research institutes and decided to reduce marine science staffing levels across the British Geological Survey (BGS), the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) significantly. This decision, including encouragement of early retirement of experienced staff who will not be replaced, severely depletes UK marine scientific and technological expertise, which can only be detrimental to the implementation of the Strategy.

13. While the marine science strategy certainly demands the skills of scientists, it cannot be too highly stressed that understanding the oceans requires both scientists and technologists. Working in the ocean is difficult; to monitor and understand this harsh, remote environment requires various combinations of ships, satellites and other proximate and remote measuring devices. Most data must be collected by instruments which must be deployed from a platform, such as ships, moorings, drill strings, remotely or autonomously operated vehicles, submersibles, aircraft, satellites, etc. Designing and running the instruments and platforms is primarily the function of technologists, who are often electrical and mechanical engineers. Once the data are obtained, their quality must be assessed by another group of technologists, data managers and data systems operators. These are essential and costly tasks. Only considering Marine Science, in isolation, creates a fundamental risk that drivers for science and for technology development are mismatched.

How effective has the Marine Science Coordination Committee and Marine Management Organisation been, and what improvement could be made?

14. The industry perspective is that the MSCC has been largely ineffective. Some IMarEST respondents are unsure of the MSCC’s purpose; others are unaware of its very existence. The Marine Industry Liaison Group, of which the IMarEST is a member, has bold objectives but relies heavily on volunteers to deliver them. Attendance at meetings varies, largely due to the voluntary nature of the commitment and the fact that a number of key sectors are either not represented at all or by junior staff. Industry representatives often work solely or predominantly on government-funded (often defence-related) projects; therefore they are not truly representative of the full extent of UK industry, especially the true private commercial sector which does not depend on the UK taxpayer for its work. Sectors particularly noticeable by their absence include shipping, offshore renewables, tourism, marine aggregates and fisheries.

15. Both the MSCC and the MMO must be able to obtain expert support and input from key specialists (individuals and organisations) within industry, but they do not seem to have adequate funding to make these links. The Marine Industries employ over 90,000 people in the UK and are worth around £10 billion (source: Marine Industries Alliance). By not fully engaging with the marine industries the MSCC is missing out on a vital opportunity.

16. The excellent MSCC communication lists the following actions:

1.Events schedule.

2.Drumbeat messages.

3.Political forum.

4.Policy/science workshops.


6.Web hub.

7.Community outreach.

8.Marine curricula.

9.Annual UK Marine Science meeting.

However, the strategy recognises that limited MSCC resources mean that only numbers one to three will be implemented in the short term. The Marine Ripple news feed and the Central Events database are useful resources but are as yet not well marketed to the wider community. The more ambitious goals, which would be especially worthwhile and deliver most value, are not achievable because resources and funding do not exist to deliver them. If funding for these activities continues to be unavailable, the MSCC must further develop relationships with other organisations in order to initiate progress. The IMarEST implores the MSCC to fully utilise the capabilities of marine-focused Learned and Professional Societies, such as the IMarEST itself, the Society for Underwater Technology (SUT), the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and the Challenger Society, to help them. Communications form a vital part of a Learned Society’s remit, together with contributions to policy and regulatory development and organization of learned meetings and events. Furthermore, several organisations, such as the Science Council and Engineering Council, have programmes to provide input to curriculum development.

17. Finally, there are concerns that the MSCC secretariat does not have the autonomy to operate in a timely and independent fashion. The dedicated secretariat seems to be hindered in progressing actions by an extensive approval process, a plethora of bureaucracy and an over-complicated committee structure. This is detrimental to its working relationships with organisations such as the IMarEST, who are committed to supporting the work of the MSCC, but who find it virtually impossible to actually do so.

18. It is encouraging that some of the excellent initiatives established under the IACMST continue to flourish under the MSCC. The Underwater Sound Forum is a particularly constructive example: it includes the relevant industry, communicates effectively and, judging by the level of attendance at meetings, is hugely successful. However, the success of the initiative is driven largely by the dedication of a number of key individuals both within the MSCC secretariat and on the Forum. Once again, it relies heavily on voluntary effort and suffers from lack of financial commitment.

19. The IMarEST respondents did not comment on the MMO’s effectiveness.

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

20. There is insufficient information in the public domain for the IMarEST to respond.

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

21. Respondents consider that the NERC suffers from poor strategic planning and inadequate engagement with industry, which hinders its ability to be able to implement exceptional R&D.

22. It is imperative that the NERC address the details highlighted in the document “Setting Course: A Community Vision and Priorities for Marine Research,” developed by the National Oceanography Centre Association, and that the NERC provide adequate funding for the objective to be achieved.

23. The NERC must address a number of emerging issues. There is increasing realisation of the damage that human activities are causing to the oceans by, eg, overfishing and pollutants, including growing volumes of microplastics. Global warming effects include alterations in ocean currents and water mass characteristics, with concomitant changes in species distributions, predator-prey relationships, and community compositions, which also affect human (sea)food resources and further imperil already vulnerable species, eg, sea turtles, sea birds and marine mammals. The addition of CO2 to the atmosphere continues to affect the ocean by exchange through the air-sea interface, slowly increasing its acidity, which has risen by 30% since the Industrial Revolution and is projected to continue rising until at least 2100. Polar oceans have the lowest saturation in the carbonate species needed to build CaCO3 skeletons for planktonic organisms, such as pteropods, that are near the base of the marine food chain. Models suggest that continued ocean acidification will affect polar oceans first, damaging the base of the food chain, especially in the Southern Ocean. Our information on the processes and effects of ocean acidification is insufficient to determine how to address the problem and the time-scale required.

24. Marine geological and geophysical investigations of the deep ocean are essential to guide investments in offshore mining of ores and petroleum. Oil and gas exploration increasingly seeks ever deeper waters; production now occurs at depths >2500m and is moving steadily deeper. Training and development of staff to meet these expensive industrial challenges, and of the scientists to assess resource prospects and conduct environmental impact studies, are critical. The challenges are technological and scientific. Novel technologies are needed to comprehensively investigate the seabed. The deep sea is not the only new frontier—there is also the Arctic, where vast oil deposits are thought to lie—but as yet remain to be found—offshore. Highly competent scientists, technologists and engineers are needed to address this challenge, and the possible environmental impacts from accidents in deep water and ice environments. Despite the recognition that less oil and gas should be burned to combat global warming, as yet few less environmentally damaging and economically viable alternatives are available to supply the needs of a rapidly growing population.

25. Substantial ore deposits lie on the deep sea floor. These may soon be mined and the UK should be further involved in these activities (the International Seabed Authority granted a mining exploration license to a UK-sponsored company in July 2012). The scientific and technological skills must be developed to investigate the nature and distribution of these deposits and develop their sustainable exploitation. Marine Institutes are well placed to undertake this work if their marine scientific and technological staffing is not reduced.

26. In summary, reducing scientific and technological staff and research funding of marine, geological and polar institutes may bring a short-term, small financial benefit, but that benefit is both negated and outweighed by the long-term financial costs of regaining skills, staff, and strategic advantage.

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?

27. Oceans are the flywheel of the global climate system, (re)distributing heat around the world. Therefore understanding and forecasting climate change demands ocean observations from many sources, including ships, satellites, buoys, moorings and autonomous vehicles (e.g. gliders and Autosubs). These data are contributed to the UN’s Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), a part of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) run by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Cutting key ocean staff, especially those with scientific and technological experience of open ocean work, will remove the UK and the data obtained from its waters from this vital database, leaving a crucial information gap that will hamper accurate forecasting.

28. Given the challenge of global climate change, it is imperative that the UK continues to contribute to the monitoring of ocean change (e.g. ocean warming and acidification) as the basis for supplying data to develop models to forecast future climate change with increasing accuracy. A major source of information on ocean warming is through the international Argo profiling float programme,2 which has seeded the ocean with ~3000 profiling floats operating in the upper 2000m of the water column. This has vastly increased our understanding of the behaviour of the upper ocean, formerly only known mostly from data collected by ships along shipping routes that cover at most ~one-tenth of the ocean. Deployed in every ocean, Argo floats must be replaced every 4–5 years. The relatively low cost of maintaining the Argo system, which is conducted under the auspices of the IOC, is shared among many nations. Contributing to this cost is arguably a requirement under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention,3 to which the UK is a party (see, e.g. Article 243).4 The UK should at the very least confirm its commitment to continue supporting this crucial programme, because these data are “essential for the efficient acquisition, integration and use of ocean observations gathered by the countries of the world for a wide variety of purposes including the prediction of weather and climate, the operational forecasting of the marine environment, the preservation of life, the mitigation of human-induced changes in the marine and coastal environment, as well as for the advancement of scientific understanding that makes this possible.”5 The same reasoning applies to the need for continued and preferably increased support for UK marine science and technology, marine scientists and technologists, and their home institutions in general.

September 2012

1 The original responses are on the IMarEST website

2 For a description and analysis of the importance of this truly visionary ocean observing programme in the international marine scientific and regulatory context see P. A. Verlaan, Current Legal Developments: the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of [UNESCO] (2009) 24 International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law 173–183.

3 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC), Montego Bay, 10 December 1982, in force 16 November 1996, 21 International Legal Materials [ILM] 1261 (1982).

4 LOSC Article 243: “States and competent international organizations shall cooperate, through the conclusion of bilateral and multilateral agreements, to create favourable conditions for the conduct of marine scientific research in the marine environment and to integrate the efforts of scientists in studying the essence of phenomena and processes occurring in the marine environment and the interrelations between them.”

5 IOC Assembly Resolution XXII–6 in 2003, quoted in Verlaan, supra note 1 at 175.

Prepared 9th April 2013