Our impact

We conduct marine research that strives for excellence and delivers impact, working with business and companies that embrace sustainable practices to unlock the ocean’s value; developing tools to understand risks and trade offs in expanding the blue economy; and pursuing the uptake of our research into policy and science applications. Thus helping to address the environmental challenges of the 21st century to ensure a healthy, productive and resilient ocean for present and future generations.  

Below are some brief examples showing how our research has made an impact:

Shaping policy and reducing marine plastic pollution

Plastic debris is a widespread and persistent pollutant in the marine environment, which poses a considerable risk to marine organisms and has economic repercussions for society.

PML was the first organisation to identify that microplastics are damaging zooplankton, the most numerous animals on Earth and a key link in oceanic food chains.

This pioneering work underpinned UK legislation to ban microplastic beads from the manufacture of wash-off cosmetics; a landmark ruling which ensures 4,000 fewer tonnes of plastic enter our oceans every year. The research has also been used as evidence for bans in 4 other countries and is informing debate in Europe on an EU-wide restriction of intentionally added microplastics.

PML’s outreach activities have reached global audiences contributing to surging public awareness that is putting pressure on policymakers and manufacturers to reduce plastic waste.

For further information see our marine plastics research page.

Satellite-derived ocean front maps inform designation of MPAs

Our oceans face multiple stressors due to climate change, overexploitation and pollution. Area-based conservation approaches are used throughout the world but do not always protect highly mobile marine fauna, such as basking sharks and turtles.

PML has provided a means to address this challenge by using satellite data to create maps that identify hotspots of marine life. These maps were the only datasets selected by the UK government to represent mobile species in the planning of marine conservation areas. This resulted in PML’s research informing the designation of 1,884,700ha of Marine Protected Areas around the UK.

The research has also been used on a global scale to help to define the boundaries of 60,133,500ha of Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas that contribute to the protection and sustainable use of marine biodiversity.

Putting ocean acidification onto the international agenda

PML scientists have been at the forefront of developing the science of ocean acidification and pivotal in placing the issues surrounding the science firmly onto the international agenda.

PML first identified ocean acidification as a problem as part of a Defra review on the potential impact of increased carbon dioxide in the marine environment in 2004, this was followed by contribution to a Royal Society Working Group which concluded that further research into ocean acidification was needed. In 2007 Dr Turley was invited to lead the ocean section in the 4th IPCC Assessment Report – the first of these assessments to include information on ocean acidification.

This raised the profile of ocean acidification and growing concern about the problem led to NERC, Defra and DECC combining forces to fund a £12M UK research programme to investigate the effects of ocean acidification, to which several PML scientists were major contributors. The scientific findings from the project informed policy at an international level and have contributed to discussions at several major events including every UNFCCC Conference of the Parties since 2009. This influence has culminated in the significant recognition of the ocean in the Paris Agreement, a global accord to address climate change, and the development of a UN Sustainable Development Goal target on ocean acidification (SDG14.3).

As part of the delivery of SDG14.3 member states are required to provide pH measurements to be used as an indicator for ocean acidfication (target 14.3.1). PML coordinates the NE Atlantic hub of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON). Through the hub PML coordinates ocean acidification monitoring efforts for the northeast Atlantic region, contributing to the delivery of the UK’s obligations under this SDG target.

Valuing the marine environment for better management

The marine environment supports human wellbeing and economic growth, yet is subject to multiple pressures that reduce its ability to do so. In order to make informed management decisions a common currency is needed to assess and compare the value of benefits derived from the sea.

PML researchers were the first to identify and systematically value these benefits and thus quantify their significance. These valuations enabled a whole-ecosystem approach that has transformed management and governance and provided evidence to underpin the designation of Marine Conservation Zones.

PML research was fundamental to the National Ecosystem Assessment which informed government policy including the UK’s Natural Environment White Paper and 25 Year Environment Plan. The approaches used have informed other countries’ ecosystem assessments and the strategies of UK Government departments.

Through our work on marine ecosystem services, PML has not only fed into and influenced national policy but has also enabled these novel approaches and understanding to impact coastal site management at the grass roots level. PML research has also contributed to Impact Assessments created by Defra to inform the designation of Marine Conservation Zones.

Further information:
Plymouth Marine Laboratory. 2017. Ecosystem Services Valuation for Southwest Coastal Managers. A guide to support the integration of ecosystem services into the management of coastal areas. Plymouth, UK.

Players on a global stage

We have had a presence at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - Conference of the Parties every year since 2009, working in partnership with other institutions from around the globe, to raise awareness of some of the pressures facing the ocean and the importance of the ocean in relation to climate change.  Our scientists have also made a significant contribution to work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and their keystone Assessment Reports on Climate Change.

In the UK and further afield our research is helping to inform policy makers in implementing the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).  The MSFD aims to achieve good environmental status of the EU's marine waters by 2020 and to protect the resource base upon which marine-related economic and social activities depend.

Many of our scientists are invited members of influential, international and national bodies, some examples of which are given below:

Inquiries & Consultations

Houses of parliament exterior at night lit up


Parliamentary inquiries and consultations, to which we have contributed through the Research Councils UK, or in our own right, include:

Energy and Climate Change Committee
 
  • Carbon Capture & Storage
  • Marine and offshore energy
  • Fuelling the debate: UK energy - successes & future challenges
 
Environmental Audit Committee
  • Plastic bags
  • Marine protected areas - oral evidence given
  • Environmental impact of microplastics
  • Nitrates
 
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
  • Food security
 
European Union
  • Seabed Mining
  • Arctic funding
 
Health Select Committee
  • Public Health England
House of Commons Science & Technology Committee
  • Water quality
  • European & UK space agencies
  • Public understanding of climate change
  • Women in science
  • Leaving the EU - implications and opportunities for science
  • Ocean acidification (written and oral evidence)
 
House of Lords Science & Technology Committee
  • Waste opportunities: stimulating a bioeconomy
  • EU regional marine co-operation - oral evidence given


Marine Management Organisation

  • Social impacts of fisheries, aquaculture, recreation, tourism and marine protected areas in marine plan areas in England
  • South Plan Analytical Report (SPAR) marine planning (ecosystem services)


Royal Society

  • Remote sensing/Earth observation - understanding