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Defra boost for ocean acidification research: PML funded to become Secretariat for the UN-endorsed 'OARS' programme

20 September 2023

The ‘Ocean Acidification Research for Sustainability’ (OARS) programme is designed to support the development of ocean acidification science
Above: The difference between urchins exposed to normal and acidified conditions.

As part of the High Level Event for Nature and People that is taking place at the UN General Assembly in New York, the UK Secretary of State Therese Coffey has announced £120k funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to support Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) becoming the secretariat for the Ocean Acidification Research for Sustainability (OARS) programme.
Heads of State and Government are currently gathered at the UN’s New York headquarters to review the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and provide high-level political guidance on transformative and accelerated actions leading up to the target year of 2030.
Building on the work of GOA-ON (the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network), the OARS programme - which is part of the UN Ocean Decade – is designed to provide society with the evidence needed to not only identify and monitor ocean acidification, but also to mitigate and adapt to its impacts, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.3.1 and target 8 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. 
The term ‘ocean acidification’ is used to describe the ongoing decrease in ocean pH caused by human CO2 emissions, such as the burning of fossil fuels. Ocean acidification is already having an adverse effect on many important marine species such as corals, oysters, crabs and plankton. Furthermore, due to the unprecedented rate of acidification, these vulnerable organisms may not have time to evolve mechanisms to cope with the changing chemistry of the ocean.
As such, the OARS programme aims to:
  • provide systematic evidence of the impacts of ocean acidification on the sustainability of marine ecosystems
  • enhance ocean acidification capacity
  • increase observations of ocean chemistry changes
  • enhance the communication to policy-makers and communities by providing the information needed to mitigate and adapt to ocean acidification and;
  • facilitate the development and evaluation of strategies to offset future impacts.
The funding from DEFRA will enable the OARS programme to have an administrative base and dedicated resource at PML, which is internationally-renowned for its work on ocean acidification science.

In addressing a panel question on tackling common challenges, the Secretary of State announced: “I’m pleased to say that the UK will be funding Plymouth Marine Laboratory as secretariat to the Ocean Acidification Research for Sustainability (OARS) programme [which will] help make sure the science from around the world is recognized and put to good use.”

You can watch the recording of the High-Level Event for Nature and People here >>

PML’s Director of Science, Professor Steve Widdicombe, who is also Co-Chair of GOA-ON, said:
“Ocean acidification represents a major threat to the health of the Ocean, the species and eco-systems within it, and the many societies and economies which depend upon its resources. It is vital that we increase our ability to monitor and understand the effects acidification is already having, build collaboration and transparency of scientific data at international level, and ensure policy-makers are better-equipped to make choices that will support a sustainable ocean future. As such, we welcome this funding announcement from Defra, and also call on others to help support the needs and ambitions of the vital OARS programme and its secretariat.”

Related information

Click here for more information about the OARS programme and GOA-ON

Overview of the United Nations General assembly High-level Week 2023

PML's ocean acidification research

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