Governmental bodies are increasingly obliged to manage the marine environment under a suite of legislative packages focused on conservation, sustainable development and environmental protection. European examples include EU Habitats Directive, EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive and UK Marine Acts 2009/2010. Globally, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) establishes that 10% of coastal and marine environments should be conserved through protected areas by 2020, an ambition that is not yet even half realized. Research conducted by HWU and BGS across the North East Atlantic, Caribbean and Eastern Pacific has been instrumental in sustainable marine management activities such as the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

There are significant challenges in terms of acquiring robust scientific data and ecological understanding to underpin marine management. Such challenges include an understanding of the distribution of marine habitats and species, their fundamental ecology, indicators of anthropogenic impacts upon them and an understanding of widespread environmental change. Data are required over wide geographic areas, within many biogeographical contexts and over a diverse range of habitats including biogenic habitats that are frequently the targets of policy implementation.

This theme is directly involved in gathering these data and synthesizing it to acquire the necessary knowledge to underpin sustainable marine management and policy implementation. The activities of this theme include the development of indicators for evaluating the status of marine benthic communities, understanding environmental baselines, mapping of habitats and species in relation to environmental factors and developing methods for environmental enhancement.