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St Andrews receives Queen’s honour

Elephant seal

A world-leading Scottish research unit has won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its contribution to the governance and protection of the oceans.

The Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews is among the winners in the Diamond Jubilee Round of The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education.

A total of 18 universities and three colleges were presented with prizes at a Diamond Jubilee Honours Ceremony attended by Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace today (Friday 24 February 2012).

St Andrews, currently celebrating its 600th Anniversary, is the only Scottish university to receive an Anniversary Prize, which recognises excellence in higher education and research.

The Sea Mammal Research Unit has become a world leader in applied research promoting best practice in the health and governance of the ocean environment.  Based at the East Sands, St Andrews, the Unit is part of the University’s School of Biology and Scottish Oceans Institute. It operates from the tropics to the poles and maintains a particular focus on the UK’s seas.  Its academic staff and graduate team specialise in research on marine mammals – primarily seals, whales and dolphins – using innovative monitoring techniques.

The sea mammals which SMRU monitor provide a unique and sensitive early warning system to track and measure a range of factors concerned with the sustainability of human exploitation of the seas.

With the scale and nature of industrial exploitation of the oceans rapidly developing, there is increasing demand for and impact of SMRU’s services, and its contribution to national policies.

Professor Ian Boyd, Director of the Unit, Dr Ailsa Hall, Senior Research Scientist, St Andrews Principal Professor Louise Richardson, University Chancellor Sir Menzies Campbell and five St Andrews students were invited to Buckingham Palace to receive the prestigious Prize on behalf of the University.

Principal, Professor Louise Richardson, said:

“We are enormously proud of the staff of the Sea Mammal Research Unit and delighted that the quality and international significance of their research has been recognised by this prestigious award.

“SMRU is one of a number of examples of Scottish universities leading the world. In our 600th year it is deeply gratifying for St Andrews to receive this honour.”

Professor Boyd said:

“Marine mammals are a bit like the canary in the cage. If we know how to read their behaviour and populations we can minimise the effect of our resource exploitation on the ocean. Although we need to exploit the ocean we also need to find ways of doing this sustainably. Marine mammals have a capacity to tell us when we are reaching the limits.

“My colleagues and I are delighted that our institution has been recognised in this way. It is truly a privilege to work with such magnificent animals and to have the job of translating their importance into information that the public can use. We also recognise that the institute is a hub in a global network of scientists and collaborators who share our passion for understanding these enigmatic creatures.”

ENDS

Issued by the University of St Andrews

Niall Scott, Director of Corporate Communications, niall.scott@st-andrews.ac.uk

01334 462244, 07711 223062

Images from the presentation ceremony at 11 am Friday 24 February 2012 will be available via the Palace Royal Rota and Press Association.

Images illustrating the work of the Sea Mammal Research Unit are available from the University Press Office on request. Email Victoria Herd, vah4@st-andrews.ac.uk or proffice@st-andrews.ac.uk

Notes to Editors

SMRU is a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Delivery Partner that provides the UK’s main science capability in the field of marine mammal biology. NERC strategic science funding supports al proportion of SMRU’s overall research activities and the resources contributed by NERC mainly fund research on seals, thus reflecting the strategic need to support the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 and the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. However, SMRU also focuses more than 50% of its research effort on cetaceans. In agreement with NERC, SMRU raises the remainder of the funding to support its strategic research programme from other sources, including the EU, Defra, Scottish Government, MoD, DECC and from an income stream generated as a result of the development and supply of instrumentation to the rest of the science community.

The Unit employs a wide range of methods to deliver its mission to improve human understanding of the ocean ‘sea profiling’ and protective work : peer-reviewed scientific publications; advanced teaching to bring on a new generation of skilled practitioners; independent and impartial advice to government and to industries important to the UK economy, the development and supply of innovative technologies and informing the public though a suite of educational literature.  SMRU’s work  provides the scientific basis for informing UK and Scottish government policy relating to marine mammals and on the use of UK territorial seas, reporting on marine predators and giving practical advice (leading for example to the reduction of by-catch of cetaceans).  The Unit has also developed an environmental risk management system for the Royal Navy.  It works to a business model with global outreach and has formed strong international collaborations through its commercial operational units in North America and the Far East.

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