> Joint news of Kiel Marine Science (KMS), Kiel University, and GEOMAR Helmholtz-Centre for Ocean Research Kiel


Ocean health in focus at the 2nd International Ocean Health Symposium

More than 100 international experts discuss marine health with a focus on the impact of marine pathogens on ecosystems and society


On Wednesday, August 31, the second International Ocean Health Symposium concluded at the Steigenberger Hotel in Kiel. International experts, among them from the USA, Saudi Arabia and Israel, researchers from Kiel University (CAU) and GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel as well as other German institutions discussed how a good condition of the global marine ecosystems can be achieved and maintained. In addition to fundamental key questions about the relationship between health and disease in the ocean, the conference focused on the classification of current extreme events such as marine heat waves and the dynamics of the spread of viruses and bacteria. Furthermore, discussions center around the role of microbes concerning the resilience of marine ecosystems and how stress factors affect the future availability of marine resources such as fish, mussels or algae. It is still largely unexplored whether epidemics and diseases of marine organisms increase due to climate change or the loss of biodiversity.

"Research into different aspects of ocean health, a comprehensive understanding of the consequences for the marine ecosystem and the challenge of creating an appropriate regulatory framework for the use of resources vital to humanity are among the important future topics for Kiel University," says CAU Vice President Professor Nele Matz-Lück. "The Kiel symposium has provided new impulses for research into this socially more than relevant topic," says the law of the sea expert from the Walter Schücking Institute for International Law at Kiel University.

"A variety of factors contribute to the fact that the ocean is changing and under stress. How changes affect diverse species, their habitats and ultimately humans are important questions that we want to explore further with our research," affirms Professor Katja Matthes, Director of GEOMAR. "This requires cross-cutting knowledge and action. The combination of many different expertises as well as the cooperation in collaboration between the Kiel University and GEOMAR makes the special strength of this symposium."

The symposium covered various issues

Will marine diseases increase due to global change? This and other topics were discussed in various sessions with international experts renowned in their field. The focus was on emerging diseases in the ocean triggered by bacteria and viruses, as well as the impact on the function of marine organisms. "Many marine pathogens are still unknown or only little researched. One of the questions that concerns us is whether infection processes in the sea differ from those on land. We want to understand which processes are responsible for the dispersal of pathogens, because conversely, the microbiome also contributes to the resilience of ecosystems," explains Professor Ute Hentschel Humeida, head of the Marine Symbioses research unit at GEOMAR.

How much disease does a healthy ocean need is a question when it comes to understanding how diseases not only affect ecosystems, but also regulate them. "We still know too little about why the important regulating role of parasites and pathogens suddenly turns into epidemics that cause important key species such as seagrasses, corals or sea urchins to die en masse, with destructive effects for the entire marine ecosystem", says Professor Thorsten Reusch, head of the Marine Ecology Research Unit at GEOMAR, who was in charge of organizing the international Ocean Health Symposium. "In science, we also talk about the dark matter of biodiversity, as we assume that there are numerous species with a parasitic lifestyle. However, such species are important ecological players in the ocean, and we encounter them when studying many native ecosystems such as mussel beds and seagrass meadows", Reusch added.

Interdisciplinary approach to marine health research

Researching the topic of Ocean Health requires an interdisciplinary approach. The invitation of the Kiel organizers brought together scientists from the fields of physical, chemical and biological oceanography, modeling and prediction of ocean systems, data sciences, biology of infectious diseases as well as climate and biodiversity research, economics and philosophy.

"In Kiel, we are ideally positioned for holistic research into the topic of Ocean Health. This is essential because we don't even know about many novel diseases in the sea yet," explains microbiologist Professor Ruth Schmitz-Streit, Director of the Institute of General Microbiology at CAU and coordinator for the research field Biological Marine Systems in the Kiel Marine Science (KMS) research focus. "We are interested in the dynamic courses in the spread of viruses and the molecular interactions with animals, plants or fungi. Our research aims to identify those factors that can also trigger diseases in humans - currently using the example of vibrios in the sea. And here we need experts who can build a bridge from research into individual pathogens to their significance for the marine ecosystem and ultimately for humans."

How can we best manage the societal and economic impacts of marine disease processes? And how can management of marine ecosystems succeed in the face of numerous unknown factors? "We are studying the interactions between society and marine ecosystems, and how, for example, disease outbreaks in marine aquaculture can affect food security. Our goal is to derive options for action for effective management across time, space and borders," emphasizes Marie-Catherine Riekhof, Director of the Center for Ocean and Society (CeOS) and Professor of Political Economy of Resource Management at the Institute of Agricultural Economics at Kiel University.

The 2nd International Ocean Health Symposium was jointly organized by Kiel Marine Science (KMS) priority research area at Kiel University and the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and supported by the Center for Ocean and Society (CeOS) / KMS, the Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 1182 "Emergence and Functioning of Metaorganisms" and the Helmholtz Research Field Earth and Environment (Topic 6, Marine Life). The event strengthens the interdisciplinary and cross-faculty research activities on "Ocean Health" at Kiel. Furthermore, the symposium was accepted as an activity within the UN Decade of Ocean Research and contributes to Goal 2 "A healthy and resilient ocean".

A group of people in front of a building
© Bevis Nickel

More than 100 international experts discuss marine health with a focus on the impact of marine pathogens on ecosystems and society.

Portrait Nele Matz-Lück
© Carolin Kirchwehm

CAU Vice President professor Nele Matz-Lück opened the symposium on Ocean Health. The Kiel symposium has provided new impulses for research into this socially relevant topic.

Portrait Katja Matthes
© Carolin Kirchwehm

Professsor Katja Matthes, Director of GEOMAR, stated that the topic Ocean Health requires cross-cutting knowledge and action.

Press contact (GEOMAR):

Ann Kristin Montano
Communication and Media
GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel


Press contact (CAU):

Friederike Balzereit
Science Communication Kiel Marine Science (KMS), CAU