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Suffolk marine agency in ambitious project to map UK’s seabed

PUBLISHED: 06:00 22 May 2018 | UPDATED: 08:18 22 May 2018

The East of England Energy Group SNS2018 conference. Jon Rees, principal oceanographer at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) in Lowestoft. Picture: Keiron Tovell

The East of England Energy Group SNS2018 conference. Jon Rees, principal oceanographer at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) in Lowestoft. Picture: Keiron Tovell

Keiron Tovell

It is said that we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the bottom of our oceans.

But an East Anglian scientific organisation is hoping to redress the balance with an ambitious cartography project.

The seabed mapping programme, being led by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) in Lowestoft, aims to provide a repository of mapping data which could be accessed by anyone working or developing in the UK’s marine space.

An assessment into the programme’s viability estimated the value of the UK marine and maritime sector at more than £11bn.

Further research by Maritime UK suggests that business activities undertaken on the seabed contribute £14bn of GVA.

Jon Rees, principal oceanographer at Cefas, said of the £120m invested annually in seabed mapping activity, approximately £101m comes from private sector organisations in sectors like oil and gas, renewables, telecommunications and commercial shipping and fishing.

“This is one of the key data sets that is required to do any development in the marine environment,” he said. “There is also hydrographic mapping and monitoring for marine protection areas for environmental impacts.

“The idea is to have a national seabed mapping programme to combine all these different sectors.”

The programme plans to map more than 750 sq km of sea bed in the UK EEZ (exclusive economic zone) – an area three times of the size of the UK’s landmass. Only a third of this area is believed to be mapped to modern standards currently.

The viability assessment said the mapping programme could yield benefits worth between £74m and £104m over 10 years.

It echoes similar schemes being undertaken in Norway and Ireland.

Mr Rees said: “These countries have shown that investing in these particular surveys gets a return of eight to 10 times the cost, so there are vast benefits to be had.”

Avoiding duplication of effort, improving access to data and reducing costs for businesses are among the key benefits, he said, speaking at the EEEGR SNS2018 conference.

“If you are a new wind farm operator, you don’t need to pay for a new survey for an area you are prospecting on, you can look at this archive and find the correct area.”

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