In the 2020 Evaluation of NERC Centres PML's impact case studies scored highest of all research centres. All studies were deemed to be outstanding or very considerable reach and significance. See below for summaries of our case studies and to download the full study.
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.
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.
>> Read our case study
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.
Our plan for impact
Delivering research that benefits society and the environment is core to PML’s ethos. We encourage all our staff to play a role in achieving impact and realising the potential of our research. One of four pillars of the PML Strategy 2020–2025 is ‘Science excellence and impact – strengthening PML as a world leader delivering cutting edge, innovative environmental and social science with impact to support a sustainable ocean’.
Our research is most likely to bring about positive change if we are responsive to external drivers, receptive to stakeholder needs, strategic in our approach, and communicate knowledge in appropriate ways to a variety of audiences.
PML has a track record of delivering impactful research; our ongoing transition to increasingly impact-led research focuses on broadening our impact to society as a whole and involving all staff and students in the process. These changes require vision and support mechanisms which are defined in a dedicated Research Impact Plan launched in spring 2021, which sits alongside our Science Plan.
The Research Impact Plan sets out the strategy to achieve impact leading to our vision for a cleaner, healthier and more resilient ocean with diverse and productive ecosystems. This will enhance human health and wellbeing and result in more equitable and sustainable goods and services for society. The organisational-level plan is based on a Theory of Change and identifies actors and expected impacts across research, innovation, capacity building, awareness and policy.