Celtic Sea floating offshore wind
Our marine and maritime excellence is unrivalled in the UK. Through our world-leading research, we are advancing the development and delivery of offshore renewable energy as well as the understanding of the ocean, and developing innovative new ways of diagnosing the threats facing it and how they can be addressed. That directly informs our teaching, enabling future generations of ocean guardians to be inspired and empowered, while our engagement with businesses and policy makers ensures the work we are doing has a positive impact on economies and societies locally and globally.

A clean energy revolution in the Celtic Sea

Long respected for its pioneering research into clean energy, the University’s expertise in the sector has never been in greater demand. In 2023, the Crown Estate launched its latest leasing round for the Celtic Sea, with a view to it becoming an epicentre of floating offshore wind (FLOW) innovation . In line with this, the University has continued to work on initiatives across academia, industry and policy to deliver the real and lasting change required to meet the UK’s net zero ambitions.
Through the Great South West, a new pan-regional partnership, the University played a key role in launching the Clean Energy Powerhouse Prospectus. It revealed that with the expansion of large-scale energy projects, the region could achieve an 800% increase in low carbon generation capacity, equivalent to 11% of predicted UK generation capacity needs, by 2035.
In 2023, the University secured an investment of £7.5 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to create the Supergen Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Impact Hub. Having led Supergen ORE for many years, the new funding will accelerate the impact of current and future ORE devices and systems, and drive the UK towards its net zero commitments.
Wind turbines in the sea with orange sunset in background
A grant of £650,000 from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership is enabling the University to combine its ORE and cyber security expertise to create a new research and development facility that will ruggedise the technology against cyber attacks. Meanwhile, research published in 2023 showed the UK’s renewable energy sector is well placed to take advantage of the expected boom in floating offshore wind technology. Another study demonstrated that adopting tidal power alongside other forms of renewables can enhance energy security by around 25%. 
The ORE expertise is also yielding successes for students. MEng (Hons) Civil Engineering student Nilesh Jeetah earned the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) South West Emerging Engineers Award for 2023 for a paper exploring the scalability and upper limits of the cylindrical steel shells that make up the floating platforms for offshore wind turbines.

The University and Supergen ORE Hub have been instrumental in uniting researchers, industry and policy makers. That will be essential if we are to ensure our innovation leads to lasting environmental, economic and social impact.

Deborah Greaves OBE FREngDeborah Greaves OBE FREng
Director of the Centre for Decarbonisation and Offshore Renewable Energy

Take off of the floating offshore wind capacity in the Celtic Sea is imminent, while our abundant natural resources – geothermal, tidal, wave – can deliver locally to support self-sufficiency and be scaled up to wider net zero advantage.

Judith Petts CBEJudith Petts CBE


Driving marine and clean maritime innovation

The University played a leading role in securing significant government investment that will drive the South West’s future marine and maritime innovation. The Great South West, the pan-regional partnership working to build the region’s economy and prosperity, was chosen as the country’s Marine and Maritime Launchpad, recognising its leadership in the sector. As part of the programme, the region is set to receive up to £7.5 million of investment to drive innovation and business growth.

The Marine and Maritime Launchpad will enable us to expand on what is already a world-class ocean economy cluster, creating commercial solutions to the challenges facing our marine and maritime sector. It will create a cleaner, high growth and digitally enabled sector right here in the South West.

Kevin ForshawKevin Forshaw
Director of Industrial and Strategic Partnerships

Cyber-ship lab - Revolutionising research into marine and maritime installations
The University is also integral to a new initiative that will deploy the world’s largest network of electric workboats. The £5.4 million Zero Emission Network of Workboats (ZENOW) project brings together 15 UK marine businesses and organisations that will ultimately deploy 20 electric workboats, powered by five new chargers.
The project will also code the boats ready for service and then, during and after a three-year period, analyse the data to provide evidence, advice and support for any of the circa 10,000 small harbours and marinas across the world getting ready to go electric. It is also central to a consortium that has secured £3.2 million of UK government funding to deliver critical marine charging infrastructure. Ten sites along the south coast of England are being plugged into the UK’s clean maritime revolution as part of The Electric Seaway project. It will create the infrastructure necessary to power the region’s ever-growing fleet of electric maritime vessels, and will be targeted at leisure and commercial vessels under 24m in size, boats which are a common feature of the UK’s 120 commercial ports and 400 non-cargo handling ports.

There are a number of challenges we need to overcome if we are to meet the government’s target of having a zero emission maritime fleet by 2050. However, our existing work in this area has provided a number of solutions and shown what can be achieved through collaborations between industry, research, boat owners and other agencies.

Richard PembertonRichard Pemberton
Lecturer in Mechanical and Marine Engineering Design

Driving marine and clean maritime innovation - Man sailing remote control boat in the sea
Driving marine and clean maritime innovation - Man working with equipment
Driving marine and clean maritime innovation - Man on eVoyager boat

Shifting global attitudes to plastics

In a year when world leaders met twice to discuss the United Nations Treaty on Plastic Pollution, the University has been instrumental in a number of critical initiatives emphasising the solutions required to bring about worldwide change. Its researchers also took part in the discussions, held in Paris and Nairobi, about the differing global impacts of plastics and how the University’s research can deliver solutions.
Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS was among the recipients of the 2023 Blue Planet Prize, acknowledging his pioneering and continued work on microplastics. He was also among the scientists on the Minderoo-Monaco Commission on Plastics and Human Health, which generated a never-before-seen analysis showing plastic as a hazard at every stage of its life cycle.
Some of the University’s latest research into microplastics – the environmental impact of tyre particle pollution – was featured on BBC News, nationally and internationally, when presenter and journalist Sophie Raworth spent a day broadcasting live from our Marine Station, following an expedition up the River Tamar with Professor Thompson and his team.

Twenty years ago there was denial that plastics presented an environmental issue. We now have a consensus about the threats exemplified in the UN Global Plastics Treaty, providing a mandate for global change. What is critical now is that we have the same quality of independent scientific evidence to guide the way to solutions as we have had in defining the problem.

Richard Thompson OBE FRSRichard Thompson OBE FRS
Head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit

Richard Thompson on a boat under the Tamar Bridge
Richard Thompson and Sophie Raworth
Sophie Raworth spent a day broadcasting live from our Marine Station
Meanwhile, research involving the University cautioned against a reliance on mechanical cleanup devices as a means of addressing the plastic pollution crisis. Academics took part in Parliament’s Evidence Week, briefing politicians and parliamentary staff on latest evidence that could be used to inform future policy making. Their expertise was also in demand when the BBC chose to broadcast its main evening news live from the University’s Marine Station, a bulletin that highlighted work taking place to advance understanding and awareness of the threats posed by tyre particles.
The University’s research has also extended beyond the realms of our planet, leading calls for a legally binding treaty to ensure Earth’s orbit isn’t irreparably harmed by the future expansion of the global space industry. A study was published in Science in the week when nearly 200 countries agreed to a treaty to protect the High Seas after a 20-year process, with the experts suggesting society needed to take the lessons learned from one part of our planetary system to another.

Revealing the deepest known evidence of coral reef bleaching

Scientists from the University discovered the deepest known evidence of coral reef bleaching, more than 90 metres below the surface of the Indian Ocean.
The damage – attributed to a 30% rise in sea temperatures caused by the Indian Ocean dipole – harmed up to 80% of the reefs in certain parts of the seabed, at depths previously thought to be resilient to ocean warming. A study published in Nature Communications pointed to the stark warning of the harm caused

Deeper corals had always been thought of as being resilient to ocean warming, because the waters they inhabit are cooler than at the surface and were believed to remain relatively stable. However, that is clearly not the case and – as a result – there are likely to be reefs at similar depths all over the world that are at threat from similar climatic changes.

Philip HosegoodPhilip Hosegood
Associate Professor in Physical Oceanography

Bleached coral in a reef

Showing that coral reefs are spawning earlier

The light pollution caused by coastal cities can trick coral reefs into spawning outside of the optimum times when they would normally reproduce. Coral broadcast  spawning events – in which lunar cycles trigger the release of eggs on certain nights of the year – are critical to the maintenance and recovery of reefs following mass bleaching and other similar events.
However, using a combination of light pollution data and spawning observations, researchers were able to show for the first time that corals exposed to artificial light at night (ALAN) are spawning one to three days closer to the full moon compared to those on unlit reefs. Spawning on different nights could reduce the likelihood of coral eggs being fertilised and surviving to produce new adult corals that help reefs to recover after

Corals are critical for the health of the global ocean, but are being increasingly damaged by human activity. If we want to mitigate against the harm this is causing, we could perhaps look to delay the switching on of night-time lighting in coastal regions to ensure the natural dark period between sunset and moonrise that triggers spawning remains intact.

Thomas DaviesThomas Davies
Lecturer in Marine Conservation

Coral reef with many colourful fish

Revealing how the UK’s shipwrecks are providing a refuge for marine life

An estimated 50,000 shipwrecks can be found around the UK’s coastline, and a study by the University has shown they have been acting as a hidden refuge for fish, corals and other marine species in areas still open to destructive bottom-towed fishing.
Many of these wrecks have been lying on the seabed for well over a century and have served as a deterrent to fishers who use bottom-towed trawling to secure their catches. As a result, while many areas of the seabed have been damaged significantly in areas of heavy fishing pressure, the seabed in and around shipwrecks remains largely unblemished.

The UK has made significant strides in terms of measures to protect the marine environment. This study highlights an impact of past human activity that is having a positive impact on the seabed today. It is unquestionably something that should be factored into future marine management plans.

Emma SheehanEmma Sheehan
Associate Professor of Marine Ecology (Research)

Diver capturing data at an underwater shipwreck

Creating a space for nature along the coastline of Plymouth Sound

Plymouth is now home to a living seawall after organisations across the world united in an attempt to enhance biodiversity along its waterfront. A series of specially designed concrete panels were installed on the edge of the Plymouth Sound National Marine Park to provide new habitats for a variety of marine flora and fauna.
The panels, developed as a result of extensive scientific research, were fixed to the seawall close to the Mayflower Steps memorial. They cover an area spanning 12×2 metres and will be monitored over the coming months to assess any different species of flora and fauna which have taken up residence. The hope is that they could become home to limpets, barnacles, anemones, seaweeds, sponges and other species commonly found in natural habitats along the South West coastline.

The Living Seawall in Plymouth is the first large, real-world-scale installation of its kind in Britain. We are very excited to work with the global community to build the evidence about the ecological benefits for both new and existing artificial structures.

Dr Louise Firth, Associate Professor of Marine Ecology
Living seawall in Plymouth

Highlighting the true scale of UK’s nature loss

Researchers from the University played an important part in a major report highlighting the scale of nature loss across the UK. The State of Nature 2023 report provides a detailed picture of how nature is faring across towns, cities, the countryside and seas.
It shows that the abundance of species has on average fallen by almost a third (32%) since 1970 and, overall, the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries globally owing to human activity, with less than half of its biodiversity remaining. 
Among the scientists involved were Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop and Dr Matt Holland, who contributed a section that highlights the importance of plankton to both the marine food web and to other wildlife, such as seabirds.

This is only the second time plankton have been included within the RSPB’s State of Nature report, and it is just recognition of their significance. We may not be able to see them with the human eye, but plankton are critical for the health of our entire planet.

Abigail McQuatters-GollopAbigail McQuatters-Gollop
Associate Professor of Marine Conservation

Eurasian Curlew on the North York Moors
Getty plankton

Restoring nature to counter climate change

Researchers are contributing to a £7 million project which aims to make coastlines and communities more resilient in the face of flooding, erosion and the impacts of climate change. The Stronger Shores initiative will explore the most effective ways to use the power of nature to restore the ocean’s health while cementing a more sustainable, healthy and prosperous future for coastal communities.
The project brings together a network of experts to test a range of restoration approaches, and how these will benefit communities along the coast of the North Sea. This will include understanding how any restoration interventions can reduce erosion and structural damage, help to stabilise shorelines, reduce wave impacts, protect against climate change, and extend the lifespan of man-made coastal defences.

Over many years, we have shown that nature has the potential to be a powerful tool in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. The findings from this research will deliver progress in enabling us to understand the role of natural and restored kelp, seagrass and oyster beds in protecting our coasts, and boosting biodiversity.

Sian ReesSian Rees
Associate Head of School - Research


Demonstrating the vulnerability of England’s only resident bottlenose dolphins

A study led by the University showed that England’s only resident population of bottlenose dolphins is under serious threat from a combination of human activity, environmental pollution and difficulties in rearing young that survive into adulthood. For almost a decade, scientists, students and conservation groups based along the English Channel coast have been working together with citizen scientists to monitor the movements and distribution of this population.
Writing in the journal Animal Conservation, the researchers report that as a result of their ongoing research they estimate the pod currently consists of just 48 individuals. That is less than half the size of most coastal bottlenose dolphin populations, and around ten times smaller than a pod known to inhabit the Channel coast of France. Their fight for survival is made even more challenging in that they inhabit some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and coastal waters known to suffer from repeated and prolonged spells of pollution and fishing pressure.

Bottlenose dolphins are highly intelligent and social animals with complex cultures. But because they live in the sea and not on land, they go unseen by most people and we fail to appreciate quite how amazing yet vulnerable they are. To see the south coast population decline to extinction would be a local tragedy for the dolphins and for us.

Simon IngramSimon Ingram
Associate Professor of Marine Conservation

Bottlenose dolphin poking its head out of the sea

Securing a prestigious diving scholarship

Lucy Penny, who had just finished the second year of an MNurs (Hons) Nursing (Adult Health and Child Health) degree, was chosen as the 2023 European Scholar of the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society (OWUSS).
The year-long scholarship, sponsored by ROLEX, is enabling her to travel to various locations across the world, including attending a series of events hosted by The Explorers Club in New York as part of World Oceans Week. Through her travels and conversations with those she meets, she hopes to gain a better understanding of  dive medicine and the mental and physical benefits diving can provide.

Diving in Plymouth’s seagrass beds and kelp forests opened my eyes to a new world, connected me with a community of like-minded people and inspired me to develop as a person. I feel incredibly privileged to be an OWUSS scholar, learn from ocean experts and enthusiasts, and integrate further into a community that cares not only for the ocean but also for the people that work there.

Lucy Penny, MNurs (Hons) Nursing student
Lucy Penny, MNurs (Hons) Nursing student, in wetsuit walking out of the sea