Kick-off event: Vision development aquaculture and decommissioning offshore wind farms

Aquaculture at sea and the decommissioning of offshore wind farms come with a lot of opportunities and challenges.

In the Belgian part of the North Sea, a lot of action is already being taken in these areas. The federal government would like to align and consolidate these initiatives into an integrated vision. Specific attention will be paid to sustainable blue growth within the framework of protecting and restoring the marine environment and marine biodiversity.

The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and the Marine Environment Department of the Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment will guide this process.To this end, two separate trajectories will be launched, both with a kick-off on Tuesday, October 18th, 2022 at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bruges.

  • In the morning, the track on aquaculture will begin.
  • In the afternoon, the track on wind farm decommissioning will start.

In order to arrive at a widely supported vision, we would like to involve all stakeholders, to hear, from the start, as many different opinions as possible of this interactive collaboration!

  • What opportunities do you see?
  • What concerns do you have?
  • What aspects should be taken into account?
  • What additional scientific information is still required?

Together we will spend the next six months developing in a transparent manner a vision for aquaculture on the one hand and wind farm decommissioning on the other, in the Belgian part of the North Sea. With this information, policy makers can then continue their work.

During this event every participant can speak his/her/their language of choice (NL/FR/ENG). However, no simultaneous interpretation will be provided.

Register through this link.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Radisson Blu Hotel, Frank Van Ackerpromenade 17, 8000 Bruges


8:45 a.m. – reception with coffee

9 a.m. – welcome


9:10 a.m. introduction by Sophie Mirgaux, Marine Environment Service (FPS Health)
9:20 a.m. – plan of action by Steven Degraer, Marine Ecology and Management (MARECO)
9:30 a.m. – interactive roundtable discussions – aquaculture
10:45 a.m. – coffee break
11 a.m.– continued interactive roundtables – aquaculture

12h30 p.m. – 1.30 p.m. – lunch


1.30 p.m.– introduction by Sophie Mirgaux, Marine Environment Service (FPS Health)
1.40 p.m.  plan of approach by Steven Degraer, Marine Ecology and Management (MARECO)
1.50 p.m. – interactive roundtable discussions – wind farms decommissioning
3.15 p.m. – coffee break
3.30 p.m. – continued interactive roundtable discussions – wind farms decommissioning

4.45 p.m. – closing reception & networking opportunity

Belgica campaign DynaMOD 2-17 August 2022

Science and life on board of the RV Belgica during the 2022/18 survey DynaMOD, offshore Ireland, shown in a playful video.

This survey was led by Ghent University (RCMG, Dept. Geology), with collaboration from VLIZ (Belgium), Université de Liège (Belgium), Ulster University (Northern Ireland) and the Royal Holloway University of London (UK). Shiptime on board of RV Belgica was granted by BELSPO & RBINS. The DynaMOD project was funded through FWO Flanders.

Video production by Ghent University (RCMG, Dept. Geology).

Music by Black Eyed Peas (I Gotta Feeling).

Public consultation for the installation of floating solar panels at sea

On June 16th 2022, the POM West-Vlaanderen has introduced a request for an environmental permit for the installation of floating solar panels at sea and an electric sea cable to Ostend.

Test site in the North Sea in 2020 (© Oceans of Energy; The Netherlands)

The request and the environmental impact study (including a draft appropriate assessment) can be consulted from August 22th till September 20th 2022, on weekdays from 9.00-17.00h in the offices of MUMM (Vautierstraat 29, 1000 Brussels, person to contact: Mia Devolder (0479 265 910, or in the offices of MUMM in Ostend: 3de en 23ste Linieregimentsplein, 8400 Ostend, person to contact: Jan Haelters (, 02/788 77 26) on reservation only.

The electronic version of the documents is also available (in Dutch) :


Environmental impact study

Everybody who is concerned can send his point of view, remarks and objections by mail to MUMM, Mia Devolder ( until October 5th 2022.

The request can also be consulted in the offices of the local authorities of every coastal city, on working days and on appointment.

On June 16th 2022, the POM West-Vlaanderen has introduced a request for an environmental permit for the installation of floating solar panels at sea and an electric sea cable to Ostend.

Test site in the North Sea in 2020 (© Oceans of Energy; The Netherlands)

The request and the environmental impact study (including a draft appropriate assessment) can be consulted from August 22th till September 20th 2022, on weekdays from 9.00-17.00h in the offices of MUMM (Vautierstraat 29, 1000 Brussels, person to contact: Mia Devolder (0479 265 910, or in the offices of MUMM in Ostend: 3de en 23ste Linieregimentsplein, 8400 Ostend, person to contact: Jan Haelters (, 02/788 77 26) on reservation only.

The electronic version of the documents is also available (in Dutch) :


Environmental impact study

Everybody who is concerned can send his point of view, remarks and objections by mail to MUMM, Mia Devolder ( until October 5th 2022.

The request can also be consulted in the offices of the local authorities of every coastal city, on working days and on appointment.

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 5)

Friday 15 July 2022

Sampling extreme conditions on empty stomach

Friday was already the last day of the JPI Oceans-S4GES campaign with the RV Belgica. One last sampling station was squeezed in before breakfast. It was an opportunity to sample an area where the remote sensing Ocean Colour imagery showed extremely high chlorophyll values, possibly too high to be explained by biological processes alone. Analysing the water and plankton samples and the physical oceanographic and bio-optical data might allow the researchers to get to the bottom of the peculiarity of this high ocean colour regime, where inflow of inland waters with high nutrient load must play a crucial role.

Italian culinary highlights on a Belgian ship

Friday morning presented itself with a culinary highlight in the form of a selection of Italian cakes baked by Italian researchers who, to everyone’s delight, demonstrated that their outstanding talents go far beyond the seawater heavy metal analysis. And that was only the finale of Italian cooking on board. Dinner the night before had two versions of lasagne on the menu, prepared by the co-chief scientist Falcini himself, kindly assisted by a French planktonic foraminifera researcher. Should you ever consider joining an oceanographic expedition, above everything else make sure that there are Italians on board!

Cleaning and packing

Most of this final day was monopolised by preparations for disembarkment. This meant to turn, within just a few hours, a research ship in full operational mode into an almost empty ship as if nothing had ever happened. It involved to dismantle all lab installments, pack up all lab equipment, store all samples for safe transport, clean all cabins and labs, clear all invoices, move all movables onto deck, lift them – including the heavy sampling gear – from deck to dock and from there into vans and hangars, and get everything on their way to their respective labs and depots throughout in Europe. (A time lapse video on Twitter gives a sense of the buzz). A logistical challenge, mastered completely smoothly and safely by team and crew – kudos!

A forward look to be looked forward to

With the ship vacated and gear stored for transport, the co-chief scientists assembled the team on the quay for a final debrief with content reflections on the week’s achievements, some emotional notes of thanks, and visionary outlook on what might lie ahead. It is safe to predict that ahead lies ample lab work to tease scientific findings out of the samples and data collected during the week. Additional ideas were raised for turning the end of the expedition into the beginning of breakthrough-progress for the health of our European marine waters. They included to hold a post-cruise meeting in autumn to compare first findings and to explore follow-up cruises with similar methodology but in different regions and sea basins of Europe.

Sketching amidst among unloading bustle

With the ship buzzing like a beehive from people cleaning and packing, the day didn’t offer the artist with much quality time for devoted painting. And the cleaning and packing obviously involves everyone, artists included, keeping Sarah busy wiping off colour stains and sweep rubber crumbs. Nonetheless, during the unloading process in the harbour she found a safe spot and the inner peace to install herself for some sketches for later finalisation. Watch out for the online exhibition that JPI Oceans is determined to set up with the materials sketched, drawn and painted during this cruise!

Closing the logbook

The scientific team on board of the RV Belgica for this North Sea expedition says goodbye for now. Following JPI Oceans’ core idea of synergy from transnational collaboration, the team’s farewells come in Flemish, French, Italian and Maltese: tot ziens, au revoir, arrivederci, and saħħa!

The on-board art & communications team from JPI Oceans adds German to the polyphony. Auf Wiedersehen from Sarah-Marie Kröger and Thorsten Kiefer. We enjoyed sharing information bits, audiovisual impressions and artistic depictions from this first expedition of the Science for Good Environmental Status (S4GES) Joint Action of JPI Oceans. Combining research, art and outreach at a cruise was novel for us. It seems to have been received with appreciation that encourages us to consider the model again for future activities of S4GES and JPI Oceans. If you want to reinforce this, just react to our social media content (kindly, of course …).

Text by Thorsten Kiefer (JPI Oceans) & Federico Falcini (CNR), Images by Thorsten Kiefer (JPI Oceans)

Other blog posts in this series

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 1)

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 2)

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 3)

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 4)

Marine mammals in Belgium in 2021

In the new report ‘Strandings and sightings of marine mammals in Belgium in 2021’, the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, SeaLife Blankenberge and the University of Liège compile the results of monitoring and scientific research on marine mammals in Belgium in 2021. The doubling of the number of seals washed ashore dead, often perished in fishing nets, was the most remarkable finding.

Which dead or dying marine mammals washed up on our beaches? Which causes of death could be indicated? What are the trends of marine mammals in Belgium? How many seals has Sealife taken in? These are the questions to which one can find the answers in the latest marine mammal report, which focuses on the results from 2021.

Some of the seals with typical circular neck/head trauma (left: Ostend, 6 April; middle: Oostduinkerke, 20 March; right: Lombardsijde, 12 April). © NorthSealTeam – Fire Brigade

Many dead seals

In 2021, only harbour porpoises and seals stranded in Belgium. A dull year for marine mammal researchers after a spectacular 2020, when two Sowerby’s beaked whales and a Minke whale washed ashore? Certainly not. Indeed, the number of dead seals doubled to more than 100, compared to an almost constant number in the 2018-2020 period (44 on average). Determining the cause of death proved to be a real challenge. As many of the dead seals appeared to be ‘decapitated’, much commotion and speculation arose. In the end it turned out that many of the animals concerned had died in fishing nets. The proportion of Grey seals, which have claimed their place in the southern North Sea only more recently than the Harbour seals, has fluctuated between half and about 70% during the last 10 years.

The number of seals stranded dead or dying (blue bars) has been increasing since the beginning of the time series in 2005, and is related to the increase in the population of Harbour seals and Grey seals in neighbouring countries. However, this cannot explain the doubling in 2021. The percentage of grey seals (orange line) has been fluctuating within the same range of 50-70% in recent years. ©RBINS

Harbour porpoises

With 74 stranded Harbour porpoises, 2021 was a rather moderate year. In 10 of the years since 2005 there were more (in four years even more than 100), in the six other years less. The cause of death could be determined for 30 porpoises: 15 fell prey to Grey seals (which is a remarkable number), 12 died of infectious diseases or starvation and ‘only’ 3 drowned in fishing nets.

The time series of registered strandings of Harbour porpoises (blue bars) shows 2021 as a moderate year compared to the years since 2005. Usually slightly more than half of the dead porpoises were males (orange line), but the proportion has increased on average in recent years. ©RBINS

Four live Harbour porpoises also stranded, all of which unfortunately died soon after stranding. Aerial surveys showed almost 3,000 Harbour porpoises in our waters during June and September.

A live stranded harbour porpoise on the beach of Mariakerke (30 August 2021). ©RBINS/Jan Haelters

Rehabilitation of seals

Sealife Blankenberge took in eight Grey and 10 Common seals in 2021. Bite wounds (of unknown origin), injuries caused by the nylon rope of a fishing net, and other waste at sea (rubber ring), were at the basis of the need for rehabilitation. Six Grey seals and seven Harbour seals could be released in 2021. In contrast to the past, young Grey seals are now more often left lying on the beach: they become more numerous and they do not need our help most of the time.

The release of Grey seals Lucas and Duvel on the beach of Blankenberge (28 April 2021). Duvel (right) had a severe injury around the neck when he was taken in three weeks earlier, caused by the nylon rope of a fishing net. The traces of this injury are still visible. ©Luc David

Additional contributions

The annual report also devotes attention to the death of Grey seal Oscar. This very old seal spent his last years on our coast and in 2021 became the mascot of the voluntary seal guard and received a lot of press attention. The solitary Bottlenose dolphin, which has been turning up regularly in our waters for many years and often seeks out the company of divers, also makes an appearance in the report.

2021 marked the 75th anniversary of the International Whaling Commission. Whether there is a reason to bring out the champagne, you can read in an opinion piece.

All marine mammals are legally protected in Belgium. Monitoring of the populations and research into explanations for the observed trends, for which the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences was appointed as the responsible institute, is part of the implementation of the Royal Decree on the protection of species in marine areas under Belgian jurisdiction, whereby, among other things, the agreements made within the Coast Guard are followed. Research into the state of health and causes of death is also an obligation in international agreements, which moreover teaches us a lot about the state of the marine environment. However, the monitoring and scientific research on marine mammals are only possible thanks to the support of the local emergency and control services and the enthusiasm and willingness to report of many observers.

For information on recent sightings of marine mammals in Belgium and instructions on what to do when stranded, please visit the website The full report for 2021 (available in Dutch and French), as well as the older annual reports, can be consulted here.

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 4)

Thursday 14 July 2022

Going from shallow to very shallow

Today the S4GES expedition with the RV Belgica moved shoreward. Very high chlorophyll concentration characterizes this coastal environment, which is particularly affected by inland input of nutrients. We completed a transect that cut from the deeper stations yesterday to two shallower sites with accordingly different tidal dynamics, thus exploring all the biogeochemical patterns observed from satellite. Water depths of ca. 15 meters at the day’s first station and less than 10 meters at the second came with its own challenges. At the second station, the ship had only a few meters of water below its keel, requiring attentive navigation. The vertical plankton net that needs a bit of legroom to operate was not deployed here. Nonetheless, the Flemish coast seemed to be so close that we might have had some interested audience from tourists promenading the beach. Heartfelt greetings from the Belgica if you were one of them and googled your way to this blog post!

Touching base with heavy gear

A condensed sampling routine during only one velocity minimum of tidal currents per station offered the opportunity to finally sample the sediment also. The massive box corer device was therefore used at both stations. Researchers on board were interested to explore whether they would find ostracods, benthic foraminifera or shells of planktonic foraminifera. Sampling the water column on station is a snapshot of the conditions of that day and hour. Sediments on the other hand have the advantage of being deposited quasi-continuously over years. This makes the sediments a low-pass filtered archive of water column dynamics. So much for the theory. Lab work will reveal whether the sediments contain the desired shells. What the box corer definitively brought on deck was a brittle star, a shrimp and a little fish. All were of course treated with loving care and returned to the water unharmed.

The heart and lungs of the Belgica

Some of the scientific team took the opportunity to descend all the way to the deep level 2 of the ship. This is where the (mostly) unsung heroes and heroines reside – referring to the engines and the crew members that maintain them. Connoisseurs of machine engineering have a lot to see and the regular clueless scientists a lot to marvel at: a monitor-laden control room, three diesel engines to generate electricity, two electric engines for propulsion, four thrusters, a water treatment station, a workshop, and much more. While parts of the engine rooms are obviously really noisy, the whole place is clean and tidy, which might not have been expected to that degree of spotlessness. Not the only surprise down there …

Artist’s delight in an unexpected place

With the Belgica largely held in elegant tones of white and grey, our visual artist Sarah-Marie Kröger had begun to feel a little deprived of colourful motives. She found them rather unexpectedly in the bowels of the ship. The different machines in the engine room are painted in bright blue, red, green, etc. Sarah was thrilled and turned her new-found inspiration immediately into a couple of industrial art pictures à la Belgica.

Text by Thorsten Kiefer (JPI Oceans) & Federico Falcini (CNR), Images by Thorsten Kiefer (JPI Oceans)


Other blog posts in this series

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 1)

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 2)

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 3)

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 5)

Symposium ‘Carbon Cycling in Coastal Environments’, 31 August 2022, Brussels

Coastal environments are under strong pressure from human activity but could also help us battle climate change. A promising method to remove CO2 from the atmosphere is to distribute silicate minerals in coastal areas since the chemical reaction that occurs when silicate minerals weather allows the ocean to take up more CO2. The new project DEHEAT will investigate the feasibility of using silicate weathering in coastal areas to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. This will be done by field studies of sites where silicate weathering rates are naturally high, and by modelling.

To kick off the project, the DEHEAT consortium organises a one-day symposium about carbon cycling in coastal environments on the 31st of August 2022. Covering a broad range of topics, the symposium will be a platform for networking and discussions about questions at the forefront of science. The symposium will be held in the Grand Auditoire at the Museum of Natural Sciences (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences), Rue Vautier 29, 1000 Brussels. Attendance is free, but registration here before the 1st of August is required.

DEHEAT is a Belspo-funded project under the RV Belgica call, runs from 2022 to 2026 and is coordinated by the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences with partners at Universiteit Antwerpen and Université Libre de Bruxelles.


9.00 – 10.00 Registration and coffee
10.00 – 10.45 Sophie Opfergelt, UCLouvain, Belgium.
Influence of permafrost thaw on weathering and organic carbon fluxes
10.45 – 11.30
 Christophe Rabouille, LSCE, France.
RiOMars: a hotspot of carbon cycling at the river-sea interface

11.30 – 11.45
11.45 – 12.30
 Rebecca James, ULB, Belgium/SDU, Denmark
Promoters or temporary reservoirs: the carbon sequestration role of coastal vegetated ecosystems

12.30 – 14.00
 Break (coffee 13.30 – 14.00)
14.00 – 14.45
 Christian März, Uni Bonn, Germany.
ChAOS in the Barents Sea: Links between carbon, nutrients and metals

14.45 – 15.30
 Ulrike Braeckman, UGent, Belgium.
Title tba.
15.30 – 15.45
15.45 – 16.30
 Goulven Laruelle, ULB, Belgium.
Quantifying the CO2 exchange between the atmosphere and the global coastal ocean
16.30 – 18.00
Network reception

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 3)

Wednesday 13 July 2022

The art of standing still

Most of the Wednesday of the North Sea campaign of JPI Oceans’ S4GES Joint Action was spent on one spot to follow a tidal cycle. This sounds easy and boring. Well, it is neither … Keeping a ship on position in a highly dynamic environment of tides, winds and currents is anything but trivial. However, as one of its modern features, the RV Belgica is equipped with outstanding maneuvering facilities (and the crew with the skills to make the most of them). Cutting-edge thrusters allow the ship to hold position with a meter-precision even at today’s surface current speeds in the order of 1-2 knots. Also, operating light and delicate sampling gear in turbulent waters can be tricky. You clearly want to avoid that plankton nets and other gear deployed from the working deck at the Belgica’s starboard side hits the hull or that cable gets entangled in a propellor. The navigation team on the bridge therefore rotated the ship steadily clockwise to cause an outward drift that keeps instruments safe from hitting the ship or they kept the ship strictly perpendicular to the current to prevent a flow along the sides of the ship. Impressive delicate handling of a 71-meter ship. It feels like playing a Paganini caprice on a double bass.

Same, same but different

Why did we spend the best part of a precious day at sea on that one station? Not just because we can, but because it made perfect scientific sense. Today’s station complemented the previous stations. It brings us as close to a controlled experimental design as one can get with seagoing fieldwork. The station was little more than 30 meters deep, thus comparable to the stations yesterday and the day before. All were “deep” for the Southern Bight of the North Sea. However, the real-time remote sensing Ocean Colour imagery (check Tuesday’s blog entry for more) showed high chlorophyll values, suggesting a biologically more dynamic setting than the previous deep stations. For consistent sampling, the researchers carried out their sampling routine again at maximum-minimum-maximum velocity of tidal currents at the site.

Yellow marks the spot

One tripod among a hundred plus wind turbines

On the programme for the late afternoon was a stroll through the forest – a forest of offshore wind turbines. Amidst this thoroughly impressive array for renewable energy generation, the ship navigated to a tiny yellow buoy marking the location of a tripod that was sitting at the seafloor for the last three weeks. The tripod was equipped with instruments to measure temperature and conductivity (and by implication salinity), current speeds all the way from near the seafloor to the surface, and turbidity and the related particle size spectrum. Furthermore, sediment traps collected sinking particles and a special camera photographed small organisms passing through. Good to know that the recovery of the tripod and its precious instruments went smoothly, for extraction of samples and data and maintenance of the whole array.

Tripod recovery

Artist speeding up

Our on-board artist Sarah-Marie Kröger changed gear into sketching mode today, speed-drawing live scenes of people working on deck and in labs. This was exploratory territory for her with respect to sketchy style and unsteady scenes. It was also probably a rare experience for the researchers having to walk around an artist placed in the middle of the lab and immersed in her craft. The researchers eventually got rewarded by being shown the drawings that depict them in action. The artist will hopefully get her reward by receiving many enthusiastic likes for the related social media posts in Instagram and Twitter, if you get the hint …

Sarah-Marie Kröger at work (see also some results below)

Text by Thorsten Kiefer (JPI Oceans) & Federico Falcini (CNR) – Images by Thorsten Kiefer (JPI Oceans)


Other blog posts in this series

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 1)

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 2)

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part4)

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 5)


Experts predict top emerging impacts on ocean biodiversity over next decade

Co-location of marine activities, lithium extraction from the deep sea, overfishing of deeper-water species, and the unexpected ocean impacts of wildfires and of new biodegradable materials are among fifteen issues experts warn we ought to be addressing now.

An international team of experts has produced a list of 15 issues that are not currently receiving widespread attention but are likely to have a significant impact on marine and coastal biodiversity over the next decade (see below for full list).

The horizon scan involved 30 experts in marine and coastal systems from 11 countries in the global north and south, from a variety of backgrounds including scientists and policy-makers. The study was led by Dr James Herbert-Read and Dr Ann Thornton in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, and included Prof Dr Steven Degraer of the Marine Ecology and Management (MARECO) team of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS). The resulting paper ‘A global horizon scan of issues impacting marine and coastal biodiversity conservation’ was published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution on 7 July 2022.

This horizon scanning process has previously been used to identify issues that have later come to prominence. For example, a scan in 2009 gave an early warning that microplastics could become a major problem in marine environments, which is indeed the case now.

Tropical marine ecosystem (© Emma Johnston)

Seemingly Unexpected Issues

While there are many well-known issues impacting ocean biodiversity, including climate change, ocean acidification and pollution, this study focuses on lesser-known emerging issues that could soon have significant impacts on marine and coastal ecosystems. These issues include the effects of new biodegradable materials on the marine environment, the impacts of wildfires on coastal ecosystems, and an ‘empty’ zone at the equator as species move away from this warming region of the ocean.

“Marine and coastal ecosystems face a wide range of emerging issues that are poorly recognised or understood, each having the potential to impact biodiversity,” said Dr James Herbert-Read. He added: “By highlighting future issues, we’re pointing to where changes must be made today – both in monitoring and policy – to protect our marine and coastal environments”.

For example, the report highlights the potential impact of new biodegradable materials on the ocean. Although such materials are promoted as a solution to the waste problem, some of these materials are more toxic to marine species than traditional plastics. Herbert-Read said: “Governments are making a push for the use of biodegradable materials, but in many cases we don’t know what impacts these materials may have on ocean life”.

At first glance, the potential impact of wildfires on coastal and marine environments may also seem unexpected, but in addition to habitat destruction, wildfires can cause water pollution from ash and other debris, sediment and nutrient slugs that move many kilometres downstream and impact aquatic life along the way, and the emergence of harmful algal blooms.

Apart from fish moving away from the equator, the authors also warn that the nutritional content of fish is declining as a consequence of climate change. Essential fatty acids tend to be produced by cold-water fish species, so as climate change raises ocean temperatures, the production of these nutritious molecules is reduced. Such changes may have impacts on both marine life and human health.

Bushfires in Australia with ash cloud (south-east) over the ocean, 2020 (© Japan Meteorological Agency_ Himawari 8; CC BY 4.0)

Exploitation Issues

Several of the issues identified are linked to exploitation of ocean resources. For example, deep sea ‘brine pools’ are unique marine environments home to a diversity of life and have high concentrations of salts containing lithium. The authors warn that rising demand for lithium for electric vehicle batteries may put these environments at risk. They call for rules to ensure biodiversity is assessed before deep sea brine pools are exploited.

While overfishing is an immediate problem, the horizon scan looked beyond this to what might happen next. The authors think there may soon be a move to fishing in the deeper waters of the mesopelagic zone (a depth of 200m – 1000m), where fish are not fit for human consumption but can be sold as food to fish farms. “There are areas where we believe immediate changes could prevent huge problems arising over the next decade, such as overfishing in the ocean’s mesopelagic zone,” said Dr Ann Thornton. She added: “Curbing this would not only stop overexploitation of these fish stocks but reduce the disruption of carbon cycling in the ocean because these species are an ocean pump that removes carbon from our atmosphere”.

Deep-sea trawling in South Africa, 2015 (© Kelle Moreau)

Far Away Issues?

Although some of the problems listed may seem far away, the study is also relevant in the Belgian part of the North Sea. Steven Degraer of RBINS clarifies: “Issues like how to properly manage the co-location of human activities at sea or the possible alteration of the nutritional content of fish due to climate change are of direct relevance also to well-studied areas like the southern North Sea”.

Because our waters are positioned on a busy shipping route, near a number of large ports, and count many different users (shipping, fisheries, renewable energy, sand extraction, dredging, tourism, …), it remains a continuous challenge to reconcile all activities on a limited surface so that the cumulative effects remain acceptable and mitigable. And, of course, the effects of climate change are not exclusive to tropical regions.

Tropical marine ecosystem (© Emma Johnston)

Driving Policy Change and Practices

Not all of the predicted impacts are negative. The authors think the development of new technologies, such as soft robotics and better underwater tracking systems, will enable scientists to learn more about marine species and their distribution. This, in turn, will guide the development of more effective marine protected areas. But they also warn that the impacts of these technologies on biodiversity must be assessed before they are deployed at scale.

“Our early identification of these issues, and their potential impacts on marine and coastal biodiversity, will support scientists, conservationists, resource managers, policy-makers and the wider community in addressing the challenges facing marine ecosystems,” said Herbert-Read.

The main aim of the study is therefore to raise awareness and encourage investment into full assessment of the predicted issues now, and potentially drive policy change, before the issues have a major impact on biodiversity.

By providing an early warning for the listed issues, the authors work in synergy with other ongoing processes. The United Nations has designated 2021-2030 as the ‘UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.’ In addition, the fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity will conclude negotiations on a global biodiversity framework in late 2022. The aim is to slow and reverse the loss of biodiversity and establish goals for positive outcomes by 2050.

This research was funded by Oceankind.


The full list of issues identified by the report

Ecosystem impacts

  1. Wildfire impacts on coastal and marine ecosystems
  2. Coastal darkening
  3. Increased toxicity of metal pollution due to ocean acidification
  4. Equatorial marine communities becoming depauperate (lacking variety) due to climate migration
  5. Altered nutritional content of fish due to climate change

Resource exploitation

  1. Untapped potential of marine collagens and their impacts on marine ecosystems
  2. Impacts of expanding trade for fish swim bladders on target and non-target species
  3. Impacts of fishing for mesopelagic (middle-depth) species on the biological ocean pump
  4. Extraction of lithium from deep-sea brine pools

Novel technologies

  1. Co-location of marine activities
  2. Floating marine cities
  3. Trace element contamination compounded by the global transition to green technologies
  4. New underwater tracking systems to study non-surfacing marine animals
  5. Soft robotics for marine research
  6. Effects of new biodegradable materials in the marine environment

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 2)

Tuesday 12 July 2022

A planned change of plan

A specific feature of this S4GES cruise is that the definition of the sampling stations originally planned in the cruise programme are fine-tuned and continuously revisited during the cruise. Decisions are based on near-real-time “Ocean Colour” remote sensing imagery, processed from EUMETSAT. Accordingly, the cruise leadership decided yesterday to skip the second “deep” station in Dutch waters. Chlorophyll data from the same day from two Sentinel3 satellites had shown that the station would have been very similar to the previous one with low chlorophyll-a concentration, thus promising little additional scientific insight. Instead, the campaign moved therefore directly to a station with a higher chlorophyll signature, promising a regime of higher biological productivity and different ecosystem.

Early rise

During the night the RV Belgica sailed back into Belgian waters, to do two stations at water depths of ca. 35 meters. The first station of the day was perfect for early-birds and sunrise spotters. For methodological consistency, the tidal current minimum at 6 AM was under no circumstances to be missed! Accordingly, everyone was on deck at sunrise for nice shots (talking about photographs obviously) and a new set of samples and measurements. It appears that sampling and sample processing already run like a well-oiled machine, leaving space to get excited about first scientific observations (more of that over the coming days …) – and a world premiere (presumably)!

Early morning rise

A first: Bio-Lagrangian drifter

A special highlight of the day was the release and recovery of a drifter that followed the plankton community. The so-called Bio-Lagrangian drifter provides a frame of reference while moving with the plankton community itself, i.e., the Lagrangian approach. Lagrangian drifters are designed to follow the water at the ocean surface, providing accurate measurements of ocean currents and their physical properties (temperature and salinity). Our Bio-Lagrangian upgrade is configured to also collect high frequency observations of plankton community properties with a bio-optical sensor. The sensor measures the scattering of visible electromagnetic radiation backward with respect to the direction of propagation. This “particle back scattering” relates to the particle concentration in seawater, including phytoplankton and non-algal particles (e.g. viruses, bacteria and detritus). The first Bio-Lagrangian drifter prototype has been funded by the Institute of Marine Sciences, ISMAR, of the National Research Council of Italy, CNR, and the first ever deployment took place today during the S4GES cruise – exciting!

Recovery of Lagrangian drifter

Painting plankton

Meanwhile, our on-board artist Sarah-Marie Kröger found herself inspired by the fascinating world of marine plankton. Watching the deployment of plankton nets, recovery of the catch and microscopic inspection of the sample, she combined these respective scenes captured on board into a new painting. While yesterday’s portrait of the RV Belgica was more like a majestic still life, today’s picture is full of action and illustrating the fascination of research and researchers – or whatever else it stirs in you …

Scientists deploy plankton nets, recover and inspect the catch (artwork Sarah-Marie Kröger).

Text by Thorsten Kiefer (JPI Oceans) & Federico Falcini (CNR), Images by Thorsten Kiefer (JPI Oceans)


Other blog posts in this series

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 1)

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part3)

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part4)

S4GES at sea with RV Belgica (part 5)