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Marine science and the environment: what has the EU done for the South West?

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Membership of the EU has paid dividends for science and the marine environment say leaders of regional scientific centres of excellence.

The South West prides itself on its environment; its coastline and beaches attract visitors from all over the world, with the obvious positive impact on the regional economy. The social and economic benefits derived from living in and visiting such a special environment are pretty clear; what may be less so are the contributions made by the EU to both maintain and improve this environment.

The 1976 EU Bathing Water Directive (and its successors) has been a common European success story, improving the quality of our bathing water and leading to economic prosperity. A good example benefiting the South West has been the growth in the surfing industry, with related spend in Cornwall alone of £153 million per year.

Subsequent legislation to protect the marine environment and its biodiversity for present and future generations has included the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). To achieve the MSFD’s goal of Good Environmental Status of the EU’s marine waters by 2020 requires scientific endeavour across the whole of the European Union including the UK, bringing together the very best scientists to tackle major challenges. Such scientific underpinning is equally true for the development and implementation of all environmental legislation.

Relevant scientific excellence exists in the South West region within organisations such as the PML, the universities of Exeter and Plymouth and the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science. As leaders of these organisations, we have seen first‐hand the benefits that European Union membership brings to the UK’s global position in science and, indeed, to our respective organisations’ standing. Our organisations have been able to participate in major world‐class research programmes funded by the European Union, pooling resources effectively to address regional‐scale issues. These currently include climate change and marine litter (plastics), which can cause serious economic and environmental damage.

Finding solutions to these important challenges in part relies on our ability to access the appropriate expertise. Being part of the European Union has enabled researchers to move freely among member states, such that we have been able to attract the very best academic talent to our organisations, supporting the scientific standing of the UK and the economic prosperity and future of our region.

Current trends in scientific publications show that international collaboration is increasing and also resulting in significant output. Now, European partnerships account for more than half of all the UK’s collaborative research output, with the proportion of international collaborations featuring scientists from EU countries having risen from 43% in 1981 to more than 60% in 2011.

Financial benefit is also derived directly from the EU, with recent statistics, published by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills on the first tranche of the EU Horizon 2020 programme for Research and Innovation, indicating that the UK ranked second in the total amount of funding awarded to EU participating countries.

High quality research cannot be carried out in isolation and collaboration with EU partners has already reaped benefits in addressing the many challenges that face society and for which science may have the solution. Here in the South West we have benefited enormously from EU membership which has enabled scientific collaboration and hence improvements in our economy and our environment.

Statement from:

Professor Stephen de Mora, FRSC, FRSB, FRSA, Chief Executive, Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)
Professor Judith Petts, CBE, Vice‐Chancellor, Plymouth University (PU)
Professor Sir Steve Smith, FAcSS, Vice‐Chancellor and Chief Executive, University of Exeter (UoE)
Professor Willie Wilson, FMBA, Director, Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS)

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