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Laws for Marine Biological Resilience

Unit(s) of assessment: Law

Research theme: Sustainable Futures

School: Nottingham Law School


Valuable biological resources are in danger

The world depends on marine fisheries, and the oceans provide us with a significant proportion of our protein intake – yet humans are endangering this food source through overfishing and by poisoning the seas with pollutants. Genetic resources – biological resources containing genetic materials – have been used as the building blocks of pharmaceuticals and other products for decades. Between 1981 and 2006, almost 50% of new drugs were derived from a natural product origin. To date, the vast majority of the genetic resources used in these products have come from  land-based sources, with the potential of marine genetic resource only now being explored.

Many of these resources are found in areas beyond national jurisdiction, and so their extraction and use is not subject to any meaningful regulation. This gives rise to significant questions about how these resources should be regulated and protected. Who should be able to use them? How should the benefits of use be shared? Who should police their extraction?

Addressing the Challenge

Designing laws for a sustainable future

Research at Nottingham Law School is identifying the strengths and weaknesses of international environmental law’s responses to these problems in our oceans. The research faces challenges that include establishing a common language across treaty instruments, defining key terms, and understanding what the current law can do and how it is implemented. Identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the current law offers a platform to propose ways in which it can be improved.

One current project is the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded Science Based Regulation of Arctic Energy (SciBAr) Installations network. This brings together a number of actors and disciplines to research the impact of offshore installations in the Arctic and the full range of physical, social and legal threats to the area.


International Cooperation

Professor Elizabeth Kirk leads the NTU research team and is co-director of The Centre for Marine Ecological Resilience and Geological Resources (MERGeR). It involves collaborations with colleagues in a number of countries including: the University of Adelaide, Australia; the university of Tromsø, Norway; the University of Aberdeen, UK; University of Toronto, Canada; and Thammasat University; Thailand.

Making a Difference

Protecting the oceans for future generations

The research will enable more sustainable management of our oceans and their resources. This will help to inform effective regulation for the use of marine genetic resources, securing the benefits derived from the development of pharmaceutical products, and from future sources of protein for human consumption.