Long-term monitoring time-series are most important during times of political uncertainty such as Brexit, but it is these times they are most at risk.
The UK marine environment faces an uncertain future. Cumulative pressures from human activities are being placed on the marine ecosystem against a back-drop of large scale prevailing climate change. Arguably however, it is changes in the political climate of the UK that have the potential for the largest impacts, whether negative or positive. Changes in governance structures, when they vary in both their environmental ambition and effectiveness, can have major implications for marine biodiversity.
Britain’s exit from the European Union (‘Brexit’) affects many aspects of the governance structure put in place to ensure our marine natural resources are used sustainably, and biodiversity is protected and conserved. As well as many EU-level activities such as fishing and trade now falling on domestic legislation to regulate, EU directives guided the formation of a lot of domestic regulation with regards to marine biodiversity. Although the result or outcome of a European directive is legally binding, it is up to member states to achieve that result with their own legislative measures. For example, through the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive the UK must assess and monitor the state of marine ecosystems against the overall target of ‘Good Environmental Status’, using the evidence from monitoring programmes to inform management measures. Therefore, although the management measures themselves were always up to the UK itself to design and implement, a possible loss of enforced monitoring and assessment obligations as a result of Brexit raises the important question facing both scientists and policy-makers: How will we even know if Brexit is a success for marine conservation?
Traditionally, scientists evaluate the success of marine management measures by systematic monitoring of biodiversity to evaluate the effects of management interventions, an application of monitoring data known as ‘Type 3’ monitoring. Here, the state after a management intervention is compared with baseline data, to evaluate any benefits. Arguably therefore, sustained time-series data is also needed to evaluate whether Brexit, overall, has negative, or positive, consequences for the UK marine ecosystem. In the same way an economist may use the value of the pound as an indicator of the economic outcomes of Brexit, ecologists can use indicators of biodiversity state to evaluate the environmental outcomes of Brexit. It is an unfortunate irony therefore, that long term ecological time-series are threatened. A lack of reporting obligations and diverted resources might lead to monitoring programmes further slipping down the list of priorities for marine management post-Brexit. However, if the UK wants to retain an effective governance infrastructure, long term monitoring programmes are essential. A limited monitoring capacity fundamentally reduces our core ability to detect, diagnose and respond to ecosystem change, therefore reducing the capacity for ecosystem-based management. Ultimately, we need to sustain ‘stable’ long term time-series datasets to deliver ‘strong’ outcomes for the marine environment.
Plankton and Policy