Professor Melanie Austen

Professor Melanie Austen

Professor of Ocean and Society

School of Biological and Marine Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering)

Professor Melanie Austen can be contacted through arrangement with our Press Office, to speak to the media on these areas of expertise.
  • Climate change
  • Marine ecosystem services
  • Marine environment
  • Environmental economics
  • Marine natural capital
  • Marine management
  • Marine biodiversity
  • Marine ecosystems


Mel Austen is Professor of Ocean and Society at the University of Plymouth, UK. For more than 20 years she has been leading and delivering a broad spectrum of interdisciplinary research projects and programmes in a marine context within the UK, EU and internationally. She has undertaken and led research across the multiple and interacting sectors of the blue economy (e.g. renewable energy, fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, recreation and leisure, pollution) and the broader marine natural capital, ecosystem services and their benefits including the natural science underpinning these, their social and economic importance, the impacts and risks of their exploitation, and management and regulatory options. 

Mel aims to support policy development, regulation and management for sustainable ecosystems in the UK and internationally. Her research therefore integrates natural, economic, social, and public health sciences to examine and quantify societal consequences and policy relevance of changes to the marine environment and its ecosystems. 

Mel is currently a member of the UK Government’s Natural Capital Committee and of its Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Chair of the Partnership of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in North Devon, and a member of the Board of Canadian Healthy Oceans Network (CHONe2). She served a 3 year term as the first Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK's Marine Management Organisation. Mel Austen was previously Head of Biodiversity at Plymouth Marine Laboratory and then Head of Science for its Sea and Society area which she originally developed and built up from 2011-2020.

Mel currently leads UKRI GCRF funded research (£6.6m) in support of coastal communities of developing countries in SE Asia (, and has a leadership role in UKRI NERC funded SWEEP which creates impact from research in support of the economy and environment of SW England. She has had leadership roles in several EU projects. For example she was the coordinator and leader of the highly interdisciplinary EU project: Vectors of Change in Oceans and Seas Marine Life, Impact on Economic Sectors (VECTORS), with 36 partner institutions from across Europe and a budget of €16.6 million.

Mel has a degree and a PhD in marine biology and ecology and has more than 100 peer reviewed publications spanning the different disciplinary and interdisciplinary areas that she has worked in during her career.


1983: BSc (Hons) Marine Biology (class 2i) Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

1986: PhD (zoology) Exeter University 'Factors affecting Meiobenthic community structure in the Tamar Estuary'

Published >100 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters.

Professional membership

  • Honorary Professor University of Exeter Medical School (2014-)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology
  • Member of the British Ecological Society
  • Member of the Marine Biological Association of the UK

Roles on external bodies

  • Member - Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) (2017-)
  • Chair - the Partnership of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in North Devon (2019-)
  • Member - UK Government’s Natural Capital Committee (2018-2021)
  • Board Member - Canadian Healthy Oceans Network (CHONe2). (2015-2022)
  • Member - Strategic Advisory Group of the UKRI Sustainable Management of UK Marine Resources Programme (2020-2021)
  • Editorial Board member UCL Open: Environment (2020-)
  • Chair - EU Marine Board Working Group on Valuing Marine Ecosystems (2013-2019)
  • Member - Expert Advisory Group for the Government Office for Science Foresight Future of the Sea project (2016-2017)
  • Review Panel Member Nordforsk Bioeconomy Programme Call for Nordic Centres of Excellence in Advancing the bioeconomy transition in the Nordic region (2016)
  • Member - UK Valuing Nature Programme Advisory Group (2015-2020)
  • Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK's Marine Management Organisation (2010-2013)
  • Co-Director of UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC, lead of 'Energy and Environment' Theme)  (2012-2014)
  • Member - EU Expert Group on Marine Research Infrastructure (2009-2012)
  • Member - Expert Panel for the National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) (2009-2011)
  • Member - North Sea Review Panel for the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (2009-2010)
  • Promotion panel member - NERC Band 4-3 (2015-2018); UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (2019-)



Research interests

Working locally, nationally and internationally to integrate marine natural and socio-economic sciences towards understanding and quantifying societal consequences and policy relevance of changes to the marine environment and its ecosystems. This includes links between marine biodiversity, ecosystem function, ecosystem services and social and economic benefits including human health; socio-economic importance of marine ecosystems; marine policy; marine renewable energy; impact of multiple anthropogenic disturbances and global change; benthic-pelagic coupling; field and experimental benthic ecology in coastal habitats; meiobenthos.

Research groups