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PML celebrates 20 years of marine science excellence as an independent charity

31 March 2022

Friday 1 April 2022 marks the 20th anniversary of Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) becoming an independent organisation with charitable status.

Group shot of PML Staff, fellows and trustees

PML’s story actually started more than five decades ago, with the creation of the Institute for Marine Environmental Research (IMER) - officially formed by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in September 1970. Over the seven years that followed, NERC built up a team of scientists that eventually came together in the laboratory on Plymouth Hoe in 1977. These scientists came from as far afield as the Oceanographic Laboratory in Edinburgh and the Animal Health laboratories in the Home Counties, as well as new positions recruited nationally and internationally.

From temporary offices and laboratories scattered around, Plymouth staff moved to the new building on Plymouth’s historic waterfront, in which PML still resides. This building was opened in September 1977 by then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and local MP, Dr David Owen (now Lord Owen).

This was regarded as marking the real start of multidisciplinary marine science in the UK, funded by NERC and many government departments of the time (Environment, Fisheries and Defence).

To celebrate PML’s history - and its ongoing role as one of the world’s leading marine research organisations - staff and alumni gathered at the Laboratory on Friday 25 March 2022 for an anniversary event, including speeches from Nick Owens (one of PML’s founding members); Icarus Allen (PML Chief Executive), Janice Timberlake (Chair of PML) and Charles Quartley (Chair of PML Applications).

“The way this organisation has evolved is really quite phenomenal,” said Icarus Allen. “Not least the leadership we’ve developed in many areas - in setting up coastal observatories, in the field of social economics, and in the way our remote sensing and modelling capabilities have grown over the years. We’ve grown our research in air-sea-gas exchange and maintained our reputation at the forefront of research into marine biodiversity and ecology. PML has done brilliantly and is recognised as a leading voice on the key challenges facing the marine environment. At the same time the building itself has undergone huge transformation - with outstanding facilities added over the years - and the way we work has also evolved. At the heart of it are the people at PML - the scientists and operational teams - whose passion and commitment  means we continue to deliver high quality, high impact research that brings meaningful benefits for society and the environment.”

Janice Timberlake, Chair of PML, said:

“This is a fantastic place and it has been quite the journey so far. Looking ahead, PML has a  huge amount of opportunity and capability to build upon, through our focus on research excellence and our digital strategy. Utilising our data in new and exciting ways; making the most of artificial intelligence and advanced tools and techniques to really leverage what we already have; and also thinking about emerging technologies and how these can take us even further across the whole organisation. There’s a huge amount to celebrate and an exciting next chapter ahead.”

Messages of congratulations were received from PML’s friends and colleagues across the globe:


“I want to congratulate PML and all of its staff on its 20th anniversary. In particular, at the UNFCCC climate conference (COP26) I was delighted that nature - including the global ocean - was brought in from the margins of climate politics to its very heart and I want to thank PML for having been instrumental in that.”
Rt Hon Lord Goldsmith Minister for Pacific and the Environment at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
“On behalf of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO - which is the home of ocean science in the United Nations system - let me greet Plymouth Marine Laboratory as a home of excellence in science…This is the time when we can jointly deliver the science we need for the ocean we want. Happy Birthday Plymouth Marine Laboratory on behalf of IOC-UNESCO and United Nations.”
Dr Vladimir Ryabinin, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO and Assistant Director General of UNESCO 

“On this 20th Anniversary of Plymouth Marine Laboratory I add my voice of congratulations and thanks for your inputs to the UN Decade of Ocean Science.”
Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Ocean 

“During my tenure as Chief Executive of NERC, I have seen how PML has weathered some austere years through relying upon on the quality of your science, as well as exercising careful judgements about your future. In more recent years, it has been good to see how NERC capital has allowed you to modernise your building, and how you have worked together with the other marine institutions around you to give Plymouth’s marine science and innovation greater visibility in the UK as a whole. I look forward to your continued and unique contribution to UK marine science over the next twenty years.”
Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

“Plymouth Marine Laboratory is a key player in marine research and has contributed largely to our knowledge on current environmental challenges to the ocean. At the same time it has been a leader and played a crucial role in bringing ocean issues to the fore of the international policy debate concerning climate change and other arenas, including important involvements in IPCC WGII led assessment reports since 2005. Congratulations on this anniversary and many many happy and influential returns, with a continued emphasis on expanding the foundation for evidence-based policies!"
Prof. Dr. Hans Otto Pörtner, Co-chair Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II & Alfred Wegener Institute

“PML are a highly valued independent voice on marine science, delivering world-leading expertise on critical areas of ocean biology, global change, and much more.  Thank you for all you do for UK science and for the health of the global ocean.  Congratulations to all at PML for reaching the institutional milestone of your 20th birthday.”
Professor Gideon Henderson, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) 

“Happy Birthday PML. I have been honoured to work for PML for 14 out of your 20 year history and half of those as Deputy Chief Executive. It has been a great honour and I think that you deserve fantastic congratulations for this birthday. I wish you all the best for the next 20 years.”
Professor Manuel Barange, Director of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and Resources Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

“Congratulations on your 20th Anniversary.  For such a young organization your world class research has contributed significantly to a better understanding of the role the oceans play in climate change, pollution (e.g., plastics), biodiversity and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  Your inputs to IPCC and other assessment processes has significantly strengthened the science policy interface leading to better evidence-based decision-making.”
Sir Robert Watson, former Chair IPBES (Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity Ecosystem Services) & lead author UN report 'Making Peace with Nature'

“20 years ago PML became an independent research organisation. Over that twenty years we’ve realised just how important the ocean and marine systems are for human wellbeing whether that be regulating climate change, or the way in which marine ecosystems provide us with valuable services…We at the National Oceanography Centre look forward to working with you in future, as we enter the decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.”
Ed Hill, CEO, National Oceanography Centre (NOC)
“I’d like to wish everyone at PML congratulations on your 20th anniversary. You are important partners for us in marine science. And of course, we’re proud in the South West of our excellence in environmental science…we’re a real regional hub of excellence. Wishing you all the best and 20 more years of success.”
Penny Endersby, Chief Executive, Met Office 

“On behalf of POGO and all our members I’m delighted to congratulate PML on reaching this 20 year milestone. PML is among the oldest members of POGO and has also been hosting the POGO secretariat since 2009. We’re very grateful for this and for the wonderful collaboration we have with PML. We look forward to many more years of collaboration.”  
Dr Sophie Seeyave , CEO of the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO)
“Happy 20th Anniversary to all of our friends at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory from the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program which just celebrated its 10th anniversary. The Global OA Observing Network would not be the same without your leadership, initiative and commitment. The leadership provided by PML on pushing hard to incorporate the ocean into the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change changed the discourse in that important decision making body.  I do not think that would have happened without PML. Thank you and keep up the great work”
Libby Jewett Ph.D., Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (USA) Ocean Acidification Program
“PEMSEA and PML have mutually benefitted from the exchange of expertise and experience through collaborative training, capacity development and strengthening of scientific research techniques to improve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems… We look forward to continuing our partnership with PML to help countries advance their commitments to international agreements and promote impactful and strategic solutions towards a sustainable and resilient blue economy…Happy 20th birthday and more power to PML.”
Aimee T. Gonzales, Executive Director, Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA)
“I am delighted to say that the University of Exeter’s strategic relationship with PML continues to grow from strength to strength and I look forward to what we will achieve together over the next 10+ years, which are fundamentally important years for our environment and climate. Over the past decade, since our signing of a MoU in 2013 (renewed in 2019), we’ve jointly supported and collaborated on numerous research projects, joint appointments and honorary positions. Our partnership has supported work across a broad number of domains and sectors including environment and human health, ecosystem services, marine energy, blue carbon and climate science (among many others)…. I and my colleagues look forward to further building our relationship in the coming years.”
Professor Lisa Roberts, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, University of Exeter 

“I congratulate PML on 20 years of world leading marine science as an independent charity.  Thanks to all who have worked at PML since 2002, the awareness of how much we all depend upon the health of the sea has increased enormously.  Because of the growing understanding that comes from leading-edge marine science, there is now a genuine global effort to look after the sea rather than just live off it.  I pay tribute to the part that PML is playing in this greater understanding and wish them well as the challenges are only set to increase in the future.”
Admiral Sir James Michael Burnell-Nugent (former Chair of PML) 

“I can’t really believe it’s been two decades. I remember your formation…and since then working with you on diverse issues such as cost impact, the tremendous work on ocean acidification, working with you on science advisory matters and more recently Marine Research Plymouth.  Many congratulation for all your achievements and for many more years to come. Happy Anniversary.”
Dan Lafolley, Ocean science expert
Congratulations PML of reaching that important milestone. I am thankful that you are here - you strengthen the marine research science here in Plymouth which has become a real powerhouse in the UK and globally with the three strong organisations (PML, MBA and University of Plymouth) that form Marine Research Plymouth.”
Professor Willie Wilson, Director of the Marine Biological Association (MBA)
“Congratulations on 20 years as an independent research charity. The PML brand is synonymous with excellence in marine research and it never staggers me to hear how many connections exist around the world.  Over recent years, the partnership working with the city in areas such as the recently launched Smart Sound initiative as well as programmes such as the MBTC have only served to strengthen our relationship and wider partnerships in the city and well beyond.”
 Anthony Payne, Strategic Director for Place, Plymouth City Council 
“2022 is a special year for both our organisations as we celebrate our 50th anniversary here at AIMS. I’d like the congratulate everyone at PML and I hope we can collaborate in the future.”  
Paul Hardisty, CEO, Australian Institute of Marine Science