National Marine Science Plan Q & A with Chair John Gunn

Chair of National Marine Science Committee John Gunn talks about the importance of having a national plan, what it means for Western Australia and how partners in industry, government and consulting will be involved.

1.       Why is it so important to have a National Plan for Marine Science?

There are a number of drivers that lead to development of the Plan. Two of the high level ones are:

The Australian Government has recently announced, through the Commonwealth Science Council its new “Science and Research Priorities” (SRP) ( These include an explicit focus on marine science, and a requirement that we have a clear plan for how we will deliver on the priorities. The intent of the SRPs is to ensure that investment from the Australian government in science is going to the most important areas. The Plan aligns well with the SRPs, and provides a clear articulation of how the 2300 strong marine science community can work together to meet a set of grand challenges.

Second, marine science is “big science”. It requires significant investment in research vessels, high end observing and experimental infrastructure, regional-to-national scale modelling frameworks etc. As we are (and I suspect always will be)  resource constrained, it makes sense that the marine science community  work together/collaborate at regional and national levels. The Plan sets out a number of recommendations where we can work towards developing national programs that will flow down to regional/state and local scale applications. This model of working extends beyond the research community into end-users. There are many benefits –  to industry, governments and community – of working at scale and across the public-private spectrum, and there is a loud call to all involved in the blue economy to collaborate and co-invest in building our national knowledge base.

By taking a collaborative, long-term, national approach to prioritising marine science in Australia, as we have in the National Marine Science Plan 2015-2025: Driving the development of Australia’s blue economy, we not only get the best investment returns for Australia’s $47 billion per annum blue economy and avoid duplication of effort, we also ensure that our people and infrastructure are focused on solving the highest priority challenges facing our ocean environments.

After all, Australia has the third largest marine jurisdiction of any nation on Earth – 13.86 million square kilometres – and we have a search-and-rescue area of 52.8 million square kilometres which is over a tenth of the Earth’s surface, giving us all the more reason to prioritise our marine science efforts.

2.       What are the highlights of the NMSP and why do you believe they are so important?

The Plan begins with a vision for what 2025 will look like if the Plan recommendations are realised. This includes helping Australia’s blue economy to reach its $100 million per annum potential, aiding efficient and effective decision-making by government, non-government organisations and industries, ensuring sustainable use of our iconic reef, marine park and Antarctic systems, improving operational safety on our waters, understanding how best to mitigate the impact of climate variability and change, discovering new opportunities and environments, and ensuring that users of our marine estate increasingly work together. This is our ambition for the Plan.

The development of this Plan has also highlighted to me the passion and commitment of our community, with over 500 marine scientists and their stakeholders volunteering their time to assist in the development of the Plan. These stakeholders helped to develop robust science plans (or white papers) for eight ‘grand challenge’ areas facing our marine estate: marine sovereignty and security; energy security; food security; biodiversity conservation and ecosystem health; climate variability and change; urban coastal environments; optimal resource allocation and infrastructure. These white papers are available at and underpin the science proposed in the Plan.

By having such a collaborative approach – complemented by a two day Symposium in November 2014 and extensive consultation on our early drafts of the Plan – I can say with confidence that this Plan owned by the broad marine science community whether they be from academia, government, industry or the community.

Another highlight for me is the discipline we’ve used to arrive at the recommendations and investment priorities identified in the Plan.  This document brings together the needs of each of these eight  grant challenge areas, looks at the commonalities and differences, considers skills, infrastructure and relationships needs, and brings these requirements together a set of eight recommendations:

  1. Create an explicit focus on the blue economy throughout the marine science system
  2. Establish and support a National Marine Baselines and Long-term Monitoring Program, to develop a comprehensive assessment of our estate, and to help manage Commonwealth and State Marine Reserves
  3. Facilitate coordinated national studies on marine system processes and resilience to enable understanding of development (urban, industrial and coastal) and climate change impacts in our marine estate
  4. Create a National Oceanographic Modelling System to supply the accurate, detailed knowledge and predictions of ocean state that defence, industry and government need
  5. Develop a dedicated and coordinated science program to support decision-making by policymakers and marine industry
  6. Sustain and expand the Integrated Marine Observing System to support critical climate change and coastal systems research, including coverage of key estuarine systems
  7. Develop marine science research training that is more quantitative, cross-disciplinary and congruent with the needs of industry and government
  8. Fund national research vessels for full use

3.       What does the NMSP mean for WA?

As WA has estuaries, coastal development, marine reserves, a fisheries industry, marine biodiversity, energy security, increased shipping activities and a need to adapt to the impact of climate variation and make evidence-based decisions about the sustainable development of its waters, it faces many of the same challenges the rest of Australia does. Ergo, WA benefits from national-scale research efforts as they flow through to the state and local government jurisdictions.

A good example of this combined national and state benefit is the expansion of Integrated Monitoring Observing System (IMOS) (currently with a regional node in WA) as one of the Plan’s recommendations. This will broaden IMOS’ current scope to support critical climate change and coastal systems research.

4.       How does this complement the Blueprint for Marine Science 2050 (released in April)?

In many ways WA has been the trail blazer for marine science prioritisation – with the development of the Blueprint for Marine Science 2050. The Blueprint dovetails nicely with the objectives and recommendations of the National Marine Science Plan. The findings of the Blueprint were considered during the Plan’s development (albeit recognising that it focusing on the needs of WA and WA’s immediate ocean environment) many of the lead authors being involved in both documents. And of course it helps that I sit on WAMSI Board that oversaw the development of the Blueprint.

By directly referencing the Blueprint and work of WAMSI in the National Marine Science Plan, the Plan can now work as a high-level vehicle for industry, the public and the international community to understand where Australia is coming together to prioritise its research efforts and how these efforts will help our oceans to continue to thrive.

5.       How will the broader science sector including industry, government and consulting be involved in the NMSP as it rolls out?

We’ve tried to ensure that our wider stakeholder groups have been closely involved in the development of the Plan, both through the white paper/science plan process, and through membership on the National Marine Science Committee (NMSC) – a consortium of 23 research institutes, universities, government departments and science groups with an interest in marine science which I chair and who have led the development of this Plan.

The Plan’s ambition is to ensure that current marine science funding gains greater traction by increasing the focus and coordination of existing science and research capability. The NMSC is beginning the Plan’s implementation by scoping Australia’s current capacity to deliver under each of the recommendations.

However in the Plan it is recognised that given the breadth of challenges and beneficiaries, additional future investment to realise the Plan’s vision must come from a broad base including different levels of government, private industry and the community. The aspirations of this decadal plan will not be realised with ‘business as usual’ marine science.

The Plan has been designed to prioritise and coordinate marine science over the next decade and includes the following investment priorities: a National Blue Economy Innovation Fund; National Marine Research Infrastructure; a National Baselines and Monitoring Program; a National Integrated Marine Experimental Facility; a National Ocean Modelling Program; and a Marine Science Capability Development Fund.

These investments will help us to build and operate essential research infrastructure, form collaborative science and research centres for priority interdisciplinary science, and support the next generation of marine science graduates.

More information about the National Marine Science Plan can be found at:

John Gunn, National Marine Science Committee (NMSC) Chair and CEO AIMS, with The Hon Karen Andrews, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Science, and The Hon Ian Macfarlane MP, Minister for Industry and Science at the launch.