The UK needs a long term plan to capitalise on the growing opportunities provided by the marine sector, government advisors have said.
A report by the Government Office for Science (GO Science), which advises ministers, recommended the government identify and work with key sectors to create a “long-term platform” for businesses and develop UK supply chains to benefit from growing global opportunities provided by the sector.
It projected the global ocean economy will double in size to $3tn by 2030.
But the report also highlighted a number of threats, including environmental, and predicted ocean plastics could treble between 2015 and 2025 without further action.
These were some of the findings and recommendations in the Foresight Future of the Sea report, a wide-ranging document published by GO Science today. Foresight reports are written by experts to inform ministers on medium and long-term issues.
The report highlights four structural issues the UK needs to address. These include:
- “Sea blindness”: a lack of understanding about the sea and its value, which creates a risk of bad policy decisions.
- Coordination between government departments and the need to avoid siloed policies.
- The need for a long-term approach.
- The need for global cooperation on many ocean issues.
Ocean dependent industries in the UK contribute £47bn gross value added to the UK economy and employ more than 500,000 people, the report said, and the ocean’s indirect contribution to the economy is “much more fundamental” – 95% of UK trade is seaborne and 48% of consumed food imported.
The report singled out a number of the UK supply chains as having potential to grow in the changing marine market. These include the offshore decommissioning industry, seabed mining and the offshore wind supply chain. The percentage of the offshore wind supply chain being supplied by UK businesses is relatively small.
The future of autonomous vessels, robotics and other technologies will also provide a “new generation” of economic activity, the report said. Not only could technology facilitate more efficient economic activity, but improve understanding of the environment through data collection.
It also recommends more coordination within the marine economy on research, infrastructure and skills needs. This includes “encouraging a collaborative approach” to researching technological solutions and the shared use of space and infrastructure.
Edward Hill, professor and executive director at the National Oceanography Centre and one of the report’s authors, told the BBC the UK needed a “mission to space” style research project to galvanise interest in the ocean. “We invest a lot of money and enthusiasm for missions to space – but there's nothing living out there. The sea bed is teeming with life. We really need a mission to planet ocean – it's the last frontier,” he said.
The report, which stressed the need for cross-government cooperation, has been signed off by ministers in four separate government departments.
In response to the report, Lord Tariq Ahmad, minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said: “Both the opportunities and the challenges set out in this important report are global in scale and demand our urgent attention.
“We must ensure that governments keep pace with this changing environment. International collaboration remains crucial in order to realise the fullest benefits of our marine industries and scientists, for the UK and the world.”
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