It may be surprising to scientists, but research in its scientific format (peer-reviewed papers, scientific conference presentations) is not useful to decision-makers. Policy makers can’t be experts in everything and they depend on scientists to provide them with appropriate evidence for decision making. Scientists are notoriously bad at doing this as the language and jargon we use to communicate with each other are not easily understood by non-scientists. As a marine science and policy researcher, I conduct policy-driven research and translate scientific knowledge into a policy-relevant format. I work closely with policy-makers to feed this information into the decision making process at the UK and European levels.
Plankton isn’t the first thing to come to mind when one thinks of marine policy, but much of what we know about pelagic marine ecology (open ocean) in the North Atlantic we’ve learned from research using data from the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey. The CPR survey is a near-surface plankton monitoring program coordinated by the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation of Ocean Science (SAHFOS) in Plymouth, UK, which has collected ~1 million plankton samples in the North Atlantic since 1931. Due to my role at the science-policy interface I am particularly interested in ecological responses to human pressures and translating this work into ecological indicators for decision making. I am currently leading the UK’s development of pelagic indicators and targets for the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive. I coordinate a team of pelagic experts who have developed ecological indicators and targets to use to monitor and manage UK waters in compliance with the EU Directive. I have to convince the UK government, my peers, and the public that the indicators and targets we propose are scientifically sound – therefore they must be easy to communicate to non-scientists, a tough job when plankton are microscopic and most people don’t even know what they are!
Ocean acidification is one policy-relevant subject I’m currently working on. We know that changes to marine pH will affect calcareous (partly composed of calcium carbonate) organisms to some extent, but there is some debate as to how much and when. Our 80 year time-series of CPR data indicates that currently some calcareous plankton taxa are increasing in abundance in the North Atlantic, suggesting that they are not yet responding to ocean acidification.
- Dr. Abigail McQuatters-Gollop
RSMAS MAF Class of 2001
Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS), Plymouth, UK