The impacts of climate change on marine systems

12 September 2019


Reported by Bekki Parrish NERC-funded Policy Intern (May - July 2019) and Kate McNeil, CSaP Communications Coordinator

"It's really important, when we think about protecting the ocean, and when we think about tackling climate change, that we bring together those two agendas through nature-based solutions," said Dr Gemma Harper, Deputy Director for Marine Policy and Evidence and Chief Social Scientist at Defra.

Speaking at CSaP's annual conference, Dr Harper’s remarks set the scene for a lively discussion on the political environment, policy, and the physical, ecological and sociological impacts of climate change on the world’s oceans.

She highlighted that the UK is responsible for the fifth largest marine estate in the world, and emphasised our responsibilities to, and dependence upon, the ocean at a time when both marine issues are rising quickly on the global agenda. These issues included flood defences and sea level rise, biodiversity, climate change, and food security for the 3bn people who are reliant upon marine systems for food.

Joining Dr Harper, Dr Nick Hardman-Mountford from the Commonwealth Secretariat, acknowledged that marine issues have the capacity to be highly political. With one third of marine waters falling within national jurisdictions, there is a need for strong scientific evidence to support national policymaking processes on topics ranging from plastic pollution to acidification and ocean warming. He highlighted that international cooperation and evidence-based responses are the best way forward, with successes already emerging in restoration and protection programmes, the blue economy and sustainable aquaculture. He stressed, however, that while “the ocean economy is growing and projected to grow”, a blue economy must be sustainable, and “there for the long term”, particularly for small island states who are heavily reliant upon marine resources.

Both Dr Hardman-Mountford and Professor Marsh from University of Southampton gave examples of recent success stories in this space. While D. Hardman-Mountford shared the success of NEKTON’s Ocean Tool for Public Understanding and Science (Octopus), an ocean data portal which supports the organisations’ mission of achieving effective ocean governance, Professor Marsh focused on researchers’ response to ecosystem consequences of the 2017 Caribbean hurricane season. Here, in response to large blooms of destructive Sargassum seaweed which threatened tourism, health and local ecosystems in Caribbean communities, research was conducted which eventually resulted in the development of the Satellite-based Sargassum Watch System (SaWS). This monitoring and early warning system is reliant upon regional responses to ocean issues.

While acknolwedging that political realities mean that civil servants are "constrained by the emergence and dissapearance of short-term thinking on some issues", Dr Harper left listeners with the key message that successful frameworks for managing marine issues will require systems-based thinking, and will consider values at stake in policy outcomes, including social, economic and environmental values.

Photo credit: USFWS - Pacific Region, 2011

  • 26 June 2019, 9:30am

    CSaP Annual Conference 2019

    CSaP's Annual Conference will bring together members of our network from government, academia and elsewhere to discuss some of the policy challenges we have worked on over the past year.