Marine and Coastal Policy Research Unit - projects

The group is at the forefront of research that supports improved marine and coastal governance in the UK, Europe and overseas. We are particularly engaged in research that supports improved marine planning, integrated coastal zone management, and marine conservation.

We adopt an interdisciplinary approach to the study of marine governance through a team of marine planning and ICZM specialists, economists, legal and media specialists, and ecologists.

Some examples of current projects can be found below along with work that has been recently completed.

Marine Parks for Coastal Cities

MarCoPol researchers with expertise in maritime law, marine ecology, marine policy, social science and ecological economics are working together to help build a novel community-focused vision for a marine park that is suited to coastal cities. The team is now developing a vision for a non-statutory community-focused marine park for the Plymouth region marine and coastal space. The concept would utilise the many existing designations and protections that already exist, not adding to them but focusing instead upon facilitating and enabling greater community engagement with the marine and coastal space. The project has provided briefing papers and presentations to the community and the research is ongoing.

Plymouth Marine Park presentation (PDF)

Presented to Local Authorities 31 July 2018  (PDF)

Enhancing protection of underwater heritage assets

Historic England project number 7146

This project seeks to investigate what existing maritime and aerial resources utilised by government departments and agencies or their contractors are present in the English inshore marine plan area, the legislative framework under which they operate and the extent to which they could lawfully be utilised in part to facilitate the enforcement of statutory protection for Underwater Heritage Assets (UHA) which are protected by legislation or otherwise. Identification of such resources and the scope for their utilisation would facilitate the Government’s drive for cross party working and the streamlining of limited resources, the need for which has been identified across government departments and agencies in recent years. 

This is seen as an important step towards cost-effective working and sustainable use of government time and resources, which is especially important when considering the complexity of enforcement in the marine environment. The project is funded by a grant from English Heritage and is due for completion in November 2018. 

The project is being undertaken by Jason Lowther, Sarah Gall and Michael Williams with additional research by Emma Bean from the University of the West of England.

Project design (PDF)

An integrated management strategy for the English Channel

The Centre played a critical role in a major Anglo-French project to enhance the governance of the English Channel. The project, called CAMIS, was intended to forge closer connections between UK and French marine sectors to secure jobs, a healthy marine environment and better governance of the Channel. Centre members led the development of an Integrated Maritime Strategy for the English Channel and organised regular Channel Forum meetings.

Camis integrated maritime strategy

Co-location in the marine environment

The Centre was commissioned by WWF Cymru to review methods to determine the feasibility of locating multiple activities in the same marine space. Co-location is critical to effective marine planning through improving the efficiency of spatial allocations and creating new opportunities for marine sectors. Through this work, a new principle-based co-location analysis methodology was determined which represents a potentially significant improvement to determining co-location decisions within a marine planning context. More broadly, this project has contributed to WWF Cymru’s work to support the development of a marine planning framework in Wales.

PEGASEAS - Promoting effective governance of the English Channel

PEGASEAS was an INTERREG IVa cross Channel capitalisation project between France and the UK with the aim to promote the effective governance of the Channel’s ecosystem. The University of Plymouth was the lead partner on the project.

PEGASEAS sought to identify common governance outcomes, outputs and lessons learnt from a suite of INTERREG IVa Channel Area Projects relevant to the effective governance of the Channel.Brought together, the results of these projects offered new insights into effective Channel governance and provided clear, powerful, communicable and compelling advice to support improved governance of the Channel marine ecosystem. 


A Dart forward vision

The Centre was commissioned by the Dart Harbour and Navigation Authority to identify the key changes likely to affect the Dart Estuary over the next ten years in order to enable the authority to implement anticipatory management measures to support its community of stakeholders. Themes investigated included new legislation, changing tourism and recreation trends, and the introduction of marine planning. This project has been extended to support the development of an action plan to guide the future management of the Dart Estuary.

Dart forward vision report

The work for Dart Harbour demonstrates the Centre's commitment to using sound science to support improved governance.

Co-location of offshore wind energy generation and fisheries

A PhD project undertaken by Matt Ashley, funded by NERC and supervised in partnership with Plymouth Marine Laboratory examined the potential for co-location of offshore renewable energy generation and commercial fisheries. The project identified the ecological effects of the construction of wind turbines and the socio-economic impacts of wind turbines located in areas used for commercial fishing.

Marine protected areas

Funded by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Marine Protected Areas is a project to increase understanding of how the level of management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) can influence delivery of marine ecosystem services. This is being addressed using spatial stochastic modelling approaches, together with scaling techniques and case study analysis.

Cetacean watching tourism PhD

In a new PhD studentship which started in October 2012 Giada Maugeri is examining the ecological and socio-economic implications of cetacean watching for the conservation of cetacean species in the UK and Ireland. Through an understanding of the complex socio-ecological system within which cetacean watching tourism occurs, more effective conservation strategies can be developed and applied. For more information about our work on cetacean tourism, please contact Dr Simon Ingram.

Dolphin study in Brazil

In collaboration with researchers at the Universities of Laguna and Santa Catalina in Southern Brazil, Dr Simon Ingram is studying a unique dolphin community that interact with artisanal fishermen. The fishermen live on the banks of a lagoon and for generations have been cooperating with a population of bottlenose dolphins. The dolphins force shoals of mullet towards the banks of the lagoon where the fishermen wait with hand thrown nets. Following a distinctive behavioural signal from the dolphins the fishermen cast their nets. The fishermen and their families are entirely dependent on this unique foraging cooperation. What the dolphins gain from this interaction is less clear. This on-going study is attempting to investigate the mechanism for this interaction and the interdependency of both fishermen and dolphins on the continuation of this interaction into the future.

Image by Fabio Daura-Jorge

Marine protected area network in the Western Channel (PANACHE)


In collaboration with the Marine Institute and the Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre, members of MarCoPol were involved in a European funded project called PANACHE which developed a network of expertise on Marine Protected Area management in the English Channel. The project aimed to develop a common approach to MPA management and monitoring and examined whether the current and proposed network of MPAs meets ecological coherence criteria. It also developed a programme of stakeholder awareness and citizen science across the Channel area. PANACHE helped build much closer co-operation between English and French government agencies, scientific institutions, private enterprises and voluntary organisations.For more information about this project, please contact Dr Sian Rees.

71 questions of global importance for the conservation of marine biodiversity

The Centre has been involved in a project sponsored by the US Society of Conservation Biology to determine the key research questions of global importance for the conservation of marine biodiversity. Dr Rebecca Jefferson attended workshops on Vancouver Island and in Washington DC at which research questions were discussed with academics and practitioners from around the world. The final list contains 71 questions on fisheries, climate change, anthropogenic threats, ecosystems, marine citizenship, policy, societal and cultural considerations, and scientific enterprise. A paper presenting the results has been published in Conservation Biology.

View of Triassic sandstone cliffs in Lyme Bay west of Sidmouth, Devon, England

Marine conservation in Lyme Bay

Members of the Centre have been involved in the ecological and socio-economic monitoring of the Lyme Bay closed area since 2009. This research seeks to understand the linkages between ecological and socio-economic changes in Lyme Bay in order to assess the effectiveness of the conservation measures in place at the site. This work has been undertaken in collaboration with the Marine Institute and has been funded by Defra.

Valuing marine ecosystem services in the Western English Channel (VALMER)

VALMER was a European funded project with 11 partners which aimed to evaluate how improved marine ecosystem service valuation can support effective marine planning and management. The project was focused on six case study sites in the Western English Channel area from which to draw wider conclusions. The project was led by the University of Plymouth and produced important understandings about the links between ecosystem services, their valuation, and effective marine governance. More information is available from the VALMER website.

Marine ecosystem service valuation and marine biodiversity

At the Centre we conducted a project for the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to support the development of the Foundation’s Oceans Initiative, which aims to foster enhanced marine biodiversity through marine ecosystem service valuation. The research involved interviews with leading marine ecologists and economists, and workshops with marine policy-makers in Portugal and the UK. The resulting recommendations highlighted the key areas in which the Foundation could focus its Oceans Initiative.

Securing the benefits of marine conservation zones

A team from the Centre was commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts to identify and value the ecosystem services provided by the recommended Marine Conservation Zone network. The project included mapping the ecosystem services provided by the entire recommended MCZ network and the detailed examination of the ecosystem services provided by four recommended MCZ sites. This work contributed to the evidence base presented to government concerning the designation of an MCZ network in England.

Identifying marine ecosystem services

Dr Steve Fletcher co-ordinated a research project funded by Natural England to identify the marine ecosystem services that are delivered by the habitats and species likely to be included in Marine Conservation Zone designated sites. The research findings illustrated for almost 100 species and habitats the pathways through which society benefits from their existence and healthy functioning in the marine environment. The research was undertaken with partners from ABPmer and Bournemouth University.

Link to the project report.

Cultural significance of the Dart Estuary

One of MarCoPol’s projects applied an innovative approach to assess the ‘Cultural Significance’ of the Dart Estuary and its encompassing features and areas.  The methodology used in the project was developed by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) at a 2013 workshop: Mapping Cultural Dimensions of Ecosystem Services (WKCES) with the aim to increase the visibility of cultural values in Marine Spatial Planning. This ICES methodology was applied to the Dart Estuary (Devon, UK), in close association with the Dart Harbour and Navigation Authority.  The cultural significance of the Dart Estuary and the encompassing areas and features was assessed using innovative stakeholder engagement and events.  This research will broadly inform marine and coastal planning and management, as well as contributing locally to the future management of the Dart Estuary.

Marine citizenship

Researchers within MarCoPol are contributing to a growing debate about how individual citizens can play a role in marine conservation and governance through personal behaviour changes. The factors controlling marine behaviour change are complex and are affected by the values held by individuals towards the sea as well as opportunities to make lifestyle changes. It is thought that a revised model of marine citizenship can make a significant contribution to marine conservation and governance. A recent paper describes marine citizenship in more detail and calls for further debate on this important topic.

Visualisation of marine ecosystem services

Communicating marine ecosystem services to public and stakeholder audiences is a potentially significant constraint on the application of marine ecosystem services in policy-making. This project seeks to address the challenge of translating complex marine ecosystem services assessments into a visual format to support policy choices. The aim of the project is to develop and test new methods to visualise marine ecosystem services within coastal engineering and marine conservation policy scenarios. This is a joint project between MarCoPol, the Engineering and Society Research Group, Devon Maritime Forum, and Dorset Coast Forum; it is funded by the University of Plymouth’s Marine Institute.

Catching marine thoughts

The results of a recent pilot study of public perceptions of the marine environment revealed the key themes shown in the word cloud. The larger the font size of each word, the more times it was mentioned. The results show that in general, people appear to have a positive attitude towards the sea.

Public perceptions of sharks

Sharks are a good example of the disconnectedness of society with many marine issues. Sharks are heavily impacted by human activities but receive limited conservation attention. Members of the Centre have been investigating public perceptions of sharks to determine how society could be actively engaged in shark conservation. In our new paper on public perceptions of sharks we present the findings of a pilot study on support for shark conservation among the UK public.