Professor Murray Roberts – The Millenium Project

JMRobertsProfessor Murray Roberts is a marine biologist at Heriot-Watt who studies the biology and ecology of deep-sea or cold-water corals. His current research goals can be summarised as ‘working to advance understanding of the biology and ecology of cold-water corals and provide the information needed for their long-term management and conservation’.

Murray leads the Coral Ecosystems Lab, is the Director of the Centre for Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology, and co-ordinates the Lyell Centre for Earth and Marine Science and Technology. You can find out more at his website

As part of our interview for the Autumn 2015 alumni magazine “In Conversation” which focuses on the issue of sustainability, we asked Murray a couple of questions from the Millenium Project’s 15 Global Challenges for Humanity, which provide a framework to assess the global and local prospects for humanity.

How can decision making be enhanced by integrating improved global foresight during unprecedented accelerating change?

Global monitoring and sharing information is really important. What we need to achieve is a global picture of the changes taking place. We’re seeing orgaIMG_5576nisations moving to facilitate this, for example NERC – the Natural Environment Research Council – recently introduced Catalyst and Innovation funding that aims to integrate knowledge from the oil and gas industry and enable new partnerships and collaborations between researchers and the industry.

Heriot-Watt’s partner in the Lyell Centre, the British Geological Survey (BGS) has a unique range of datasets including maps of seabed geology and habitats. Our NERC Catalyst and Innovation projects combine BGS data with industry marine ecosystems and cutting-edge ocean models from the National Oceanography Centre to produce new environmental decision-support tools. We find interdisciplinary collaboration is key to enhancing decision making.

How can ethical considerations become more routinely incorporated into global decisions?

Ethical considerations in my area can relate to a range of issues, but an important one is how we protect sensitive marine species and habitats by making sure our research does no unnecessary harm. Some corals are currently protected under legislation but others are not, equally some areas are protected and others are not: the High Seas, for example, are beyond jurisdiction of any one nation state and are managed for the ‘common heritage of mankind’ through the United Nations.

Corals on platformThe UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recognises that the threat to species and ecosystems has never been as great as it is today. It aims to increase “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources”. We recently worked with the CBD to produce an updated synthesis on the impacts of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems. It’s important that we all adhere to its aims and for us one of its implications relates to how we gather samples: we work to be minimally invasive and will use the best available remote technology to achieve this. Strong partnerships with engineers are vital here.”

Murray talks more about the important research he undertakes in ocean acidification in our upcoming digital alumni magazine, In Conversation, which will be released at the end of September.

To make sure a copy of the interactive magazine lands in your inbox, keep your email address up to date with us by clicking here.

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