Professor Mel Austen
Mel Austen is Professor of Ocean and Society and Director of the Centre for Systems Thinking: Ocean, Land and Society. For more than 20 years, she has been leading and delivering a broad spectrum of interdisciplinary research projects to support the blue economy and protect our oceans. She is member of the UK Government’s Natural Capital Committee (NCC) and its Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

Co-creating solutions and advising on policy to protect our oceans

Across the UK, Europe and the world, Mel has undertaken and led research in multiple and interacting sectors of the blue economy, including renewable energy, fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, leisure and pollution. Her focus on broader marine natural capital and ecosystems services has championed policy development, regulation and management of sustainable ecosystems.
As a member of the NCC, for over five years she has supported in advising the UK Government on natural capital such as forests, rivers, minerals and oceans. This has transformed the nation’s understanding of the importance of natural capital for economic prosperity and human wellbeing.

Thought leadership

How do we protect our oceans? The solutions lie on land and with people
For generations, humankind has been focused on its terrestrial environment; shaping it through agriculture, urbanisation and conservation. Our aquatic environment, meanwhile, has been a comparatively unmanaged source of food, enabled transport, and is a location for leisure.

Taking the systems thinking approach

As the Director of the University’s Centre for Systems Thinking, Mel’s ethos is for researchers, local communities, businesses and governments to come together to address the climate emergency. Helping to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, her work seeks nature-based and nature-positive solutions to advance blue-green growth.
Mel led the UKRI GCRF £6.6million funded Blue Communities project that worked across the whole system to support coastal communities in South East Asia and protect marine biodiversity. She is currently the co-lead of the UKRI NERC funded South West Partnership for Environmental and Economic Prosperity (SWEEP) project that is working with a systems-thinking approach to protect and enhance the South West’s natural resources whilst delivering economic and community benefits. 

The person behind the pioneer

"After all this time, I am still constantly blown away by the marine environment."

We urgently need interdisciplinary research to understand and explain the impacts on natural capital, ecosystem services and the functioning of the ocean. And identify solutions that create equitable and sustainable outcomes globally from our use of the ocean and its natural resources.

Professor Mel Austen

Fishing boat on Philippine ocean on a beautiful sunset day

Home of marine

Our marine and maritime excellence in world-leading research informs policy agendas for the sustainable management of ocean resources. Our work has significantly improved how to forecast extreme coastal events and their impact on communities. We were the first to study the ecological effects of ocean acidification, and now lead the UK agenda for offshore renewable energy. On national and international levels, we have influenced key policies, conservation practices, responses to climate change, public perception of marine issues, and are defining the pathways toward tangible solutions.
The culture of close collaboration across the city with researchers, policymakers, and local businesses has resulted in Plymouth’s nomination for the UK’s first National Marine Park – an initiative underpinned by research at the University.
Underwater bubbles