Research initiative Ocean Health

Waves in front of beach
© Friederike Balzereit, KMS

Ocean Health studies the health of marine organisms, but also of entire marine ecosystems, especially under the effects of climate change.

Ocean Health aims to close knowledge gaps in marine science

Research into various 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 future topics in marine sciences with high social relevance.

Light trap in the sea
© Uli Kunz, submaris

Researchers at the FTZ in Büsum use special light traps to study the exposure of marine organisms to noise.

Interdisciplinary research into Ocean Health

Scientists from the Kiel Marine Science (KMS) priority research area combine their activities in the Ocean Health research initiative in an interdisciplinary manner from microbiological, ecological, geological, oceanographic, informational, economic, medical-ethical and social perspectives.

Ocean Health studies the health of marine organisms, but also of entire marine ecosystems, especially under the effects of climate change: from molecular mechanisms of bacteria-bacteria interactions, the healthy composition of the microbiomes of marine animals, to physiological adaptability and global distribution patterns of toxic algal blooms, the influence of climate change on emerging diseases in the sea is being investigated. Different approaches show that stress, for example in the form of underwater noise, acidification or temperature extremes, can limit the resilience of marine organisms to diseases and also influence the biodiversity of marine ecosystems.

underwater photo
© Uli Kunz, Submaris

Marine organisms such as brown algae like bladderwrack contain substances with anti-inflammatory effects that also play an important role in medicine.

Impact of marine diseases on people and society

In the Ocean Health research initiative, the potential impacts of marine diseases on society also plays an essential role. In the research project "Beyond One Ocean Health(B1OH)" led by the Center for Ocean and Society (CeOS), a KMS platform for transdisciplinary research, the connections between health and disease in the ocean in marine plants and animals as well as human health are being explored. The aim is to develop a holistic view of an intact state of the ocean, especially in an international context. B1OH contributes to the UN Ocean Decade goals of "healthy and resilient ocean", "predictable ocean" and "inspiring ocean" and is part of the Digital Twins of the Ocean (DITTO) decade project led by GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. CeOS researchers are also developing management options to preserve the biodiversity of macroalgal marine forests in the Mediterranean Sea. The aim is to work with stakeholders to create effective tools for sustainable sea urchin fisheries and marine forest conservation in the Mediterranean.

A bird in flight over the water.
© Martin Grimm

Seabirds like the red-throated diver here avoid offshore wind farms.

New need for research due to the increasing impact of offshore wind farms on seabirds

The connection between healthy marine ecosystems and human use of the seas is being researched at the Research and Technology Centre (FTZ) West Coast in Büsum using the example of offshore wind farms: the migration routes of seabirds can be affected by large fields of wind turbines and the birds can also be additionally weakened by ingesting microplastics. The effect of these factors on the spread of avian influenza, for example, has not yet been studied. In cooperation with the Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife Research (ITAW) in Büsum, similar effects on the occurrence of avian flu and other viruses in marine mammals will be investigated.

Sea grasses in the Baltic sea
© Dr Jan Dierking, GEOMAR

Many marine organisms, for example sea grasses in the Baltic sea, reproduce by forming clones. Their genetic information consists of a mosaic of original and newly acquired genes.

Kiel cooperation strengthens new research initiative Ocean Health

As a scientific research initiative, Ocean Health will be further developed in close cooperation with the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. In order to understand the mechanisms of infection, immune responses and their evolution, research will be conducted on common model organisms and in geographical focus regions, from the molecular level to global circulation models. Using new data analysis methods, results from different disciplines can contribute to improved models and prediction options.
In the future, coordinated field studies will investigate the interplay between challenging environmental conditions and the occurrence of marine diseases, but also the regulatory role of viruses and bacteria in ecosystems. This is planned, for example, on the Cape Verde Islands, in cooperation with the Ocean Science Centre Mindelo (GEOMAR), as well as in the North and Baltic Seas or in the North Atlantic, in cooperation with Dalhousie University. The new research initiative aims to make Kiel a globally visible hub of knowledge on ocean health through further international partnerships.


Management of the KMS-Office

Dr. Nicole Schmidt
 +49 431 880-4805

Scientific officer

Dr. Frauke Pescheck
 +49 431 880-6884



Satellite data show consequences of the record storm surge on the Baltic Sea coast

Researchers from the Earth Observation and Modelling (EOM) working group at Kiel University are analyzing the changes to Geltinger Birk and Schlei

Waves in front of beach

Towards a healthy ocean for all and beyond

Workshop for all actors interested in shaping the concept of One Ocean Health


A taste for plastic

Discovered for the first time: New deep-sea enzyme breaks down PET plastic

Two women in a laboratory

Spread of vibrios during marine heat waves in focus

Microbiologists from Kiel University are investigating the spread of Vibrio species and their interaction with marine organisms

Woman at lecture

The great potential of small RNAs - new dual functions deciphered

Kiel microbiologist Ruth Schmitz-Streit presents results on the role of RNAs in infection processes in the sea and on land at a symposium in the USA

Group picture

Working together to protect the coastal habitats of St. Peter-Ording

Conference on the development, protection and management of beaches, dunes and forests in the Wadden Sea


Publications and Activities

Publications related to Ocean Health (excerpt)

Bange A, Backes A, Garthe S & Schwemmer P (2023) Prey choice and ingestion of microplastics by common shelducks and common eiders in the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site. Mar Biol 170: 54,

Bülck C, Nyström EEL, Koudelka T, Mannbar-Frahm M, Andresen G, Radhouani M, Tran F, Scharfenberg F, Schrell F, Armbrust F, Dahlke E, Zhao B, Vervaeke A, Theilig F, Rosenstiel P, Starkl P, Rosshart SP, Fickenscher H, Tholey A, Hansson GC, Becker-Pauly C (2023) Proteolytic processing of galectin-3 by meprin metalloproteases is crucial for host-microbiome homeostasis. Sci Adv 9: eadf4055,

Chang WW, Thies AB, Tresguerres M & Hu MY (2023) Soluble adenylyl cyclase coordinates intracellular pH homeostasis and biomineralization in calcifying cells of a marine animal. Am J Physiol-Cell Physiol 324: C777–C786,

Chibani CM, Hertel R, Neumann-Schaal M, Goehlich H, Wagner K, Bunk B, Spröer C, Overmann J, Hoppert M, Marten SM, Roth O, Liesegang H, Wendling CC. (2023) Vibrio syngnathi sp. nov., a fish pathogen, isolated from the Kiel Fjord. Int J Syst Evol Microbiol 73,

Chou PH, Hu MY, Guh YJ, Wu GC, Yang SH, Tandon K, Shao YT, Lin LY, Chen C, Tseng KY, Wang MC, Zhang CM, Han BC, Lin CC, Tang SL, Jeng MS, Chang CF, Tseng YC (2023) Cellular mechanisms underlying extraordinary sulfide tolerance in a crustacean holobiont from hydrothermal vents. Proc R Soc B-Biol Sci 290: 20221973,

Fokt H, Sakalyte G, Unni R, Abukhalaf M, Cassidy L, Marinos G, Godfroid M, Kinfu BM, Schmitz RA, Kaleta C, Tholey A, Baines JF, Dagan T, Unterweger D (2023) Closely related Bacteroides of the murine intestinal microbiota affect each other’s growth positively or negatively. 2023.03.05.530569 DOI 10.1101/2023.03.05.530569 [PREPRINT]

Garthe S, Schwemmer H, Peschko V, Markones N, Müller S, Schwemmer P & Mercker M (2023) Large-scale effects of offshore wind farms on seabirds of high conservation concern. Sci Rep 13: 4779,

Gehlert FO, Sauerwein T, Weidenbach K, Repnik U, Hallack D, Foerstner KU & Schmitz RA (2022) Dual-RNAseq analysis unravels virus-host interactions of MetSV and Methanosarcina mazei. Viruses-Basel 14: 2585,

Goehlich H, Roth O, Sieber M, Chibani CM, Poehlein A, Rajkov J, Liesegang H & Wendling CC (2023) Suboptimal environmental conditions prolong phage epidemics in bacterial populations. Mol Ecol 2023 Jun 19. Epub ahead of print

Hayer S, Brandis D, Immel A, Susat J, Torres-Oliva M, Ewers-Saucedo C & Krause-Kyora B (2021) Phylogeography in an “oyster” shell provides first insights into the genetic structure of an extinct Ostrea edulis population. Sci Rep 11: 2307,

Hu MY & Stumpp M (2023) Surviving in an Acidifying Ocean: Acid-base physiology and energetics of the sea urchin larva. Physiol Bethesda Md 38: 0,

Jensen N, Weiland-Braeuer N, Joel S, Chibani CM & Schmitz RA (2023) The life cycle of Aurelia aurita depends on the presence of a microbiome in polyps prior to onset of strobilation. Microbiol Spectr, Online First, eLocator: e00262-23,

Kostiuk B, Santoriello FJ, Diaz-Satizabal L, Bisaro F, Lee K-J, Dhody AN, Provenzano D, Unterweger D & Pukatzki S (2021) Type VI secretion system mutations reduced competitive fitness of classical Vibrio cholerae biotype. Nat Commun 12: 6457,

Kuehn S, King F & Heubel K (2023) Decreased feeding rates of the copepod Acartia tonsa when exposed to playback harbor traffic noise. Front Mar Sci 10: 1134792,

Kuhwald K, Schneider von Deimling J, Schubert P & Oppelt N (2022) How can Sentinel-2 contribute to seagrass mapping in shallow, turbid Baltic Sea waters? Remote Sens Ecol Conserv 8: 328–346,

Lehmann MK, Gurlin D, Pahlevan N, Alikas K, Conroy T, Anstee J, Balasubramanian SV, Barbosa CCF, Binding C, Bracher A, Bresciani M, Burtner A, Cao Z, Dekker AG, Di Vittorio C, Drayson N, Errera RM, Fernandez V, Ficek D, Fichot CG, Gege P, Giardino C, Gitelson AA, Greb SR, Henderson H, Higa H, Rahaghi AI, Jamet C, Jiang D, Jordan T, Kangro K, Kravitz JA, Kristoffersen AS, Kudela R, Li L, Ligi M, Loisel H, Lohrenz S, Ma R, Maciel DA, Malthus TJ, Matsushita B, Matthews M, Minaudo C, Mishra DR, Mishra S, Moore T, Moses WJ, Nguyễn H, Novo EMLM, Novoa S, Odermatt D, O'Donnell DM, Olmanson LG, Ondrusek M, Oppelt N, Ouillon S, Pereira Filho W, Plattner S, Verdú AR, Salem SI, Schalles JF, Simis SGH, Siswanto E, Smith B, Somlai-Schweiger I, Soppa MA, Spyrakos E, Tessin E, van der Woerd HJ, Vander Woude A, Vandermeulen RA, Vantrepotte V, Wernand MR, Werther M, Young K, Yue L (2023) GLORIA-A globally representative hyperspectral in situ dataset for optical sensing of water quality. Sci Data 10: 100, DOI 10.1038/s41597-023-01973-y,

Liu Y, Qu M, Jiang H, Schneider R, Qin G, Luo W, Yu H, Zhang B, Wang X, Zhang Y, Zhang H, Zhang Z, Wu Y, Zhang Y, Yin J, Zhang S, Venkatesh B, Roth O, Meyer A, Lin Q (2022) Immunogenetic losses co-occurred with seahorse male pregnancy and mutation in tlx1 accompanied functional asplenia. Nat Commun 13: 7610,

Matt A-S, Chang WW & Hu MY (2022) Extracellular carbonic anhydrase activity promotes a carbon concentration mechanism in metazoan calcifying cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci 119: e2203904119,

Parker J, Guslund NC, Jentoft S & Roth O (2022) Characterization of pipefish immune cell populations through single-cell transcriptomics. Front Immunol 13:820152

Roth O, Solbakken MH, Tørresen OK, Bayer T, Matschiner M, Baalsrud HT, Hoff SNK, Brieuc MSO, Haase D, Hanel R, Reusch TBH, Jentoft S (2020) Evolution of male pregnancy associated with remodeling of canonical vertebrate immunity in seahorses and pipefishes. Proc Natl Acad Sci 117: 9431–9439,

Schütt EM, Hundsdörfer MAJ, von Hoyningen-Huene AJE, Lange X, Koschmider A & Oppelt N (2023) First steps towards a near real-time modelling system of Vibrio vulnificus in the Baltic Sea. Int J Environ Res Public Health 20: 5543,

Schwemmer P, Mercker M, Haecker K, Kruckenberg H, Kämpfer S, Bocher P, Fort J, Jiguet F, Franks S, Elts J, Marja R, Piha M, Rousseau P, Pederson R, Düttmann H, Fartmann T, Garthe S (2023) Behavioral responses to offshore windfarms during migration of a declining shorebird species revealed by GPS-telemetry. J Environ Manage 342: 118131,

Stante M, Weiland-Bräuer N, Repnik U, Werner A, Bramkamp M, Chibani CM & Schmitz RA (2023) Four novel Caudoviricetes bacteriophages isolated from Baltic Sea water infect colonizers of Aurelia aurita. Viruses 15: 1525,

Unni R, Pintor KL, Diepold A & Unterweger D (2022) Presence and absence of type VI secretion systems in bacteria. Microbiol-Sgm 168: 001151,

Verwega M-T, Trahms C, Antia AN, Dickhaus T, Prigge E, Prinzler MHU, Renz M, Schartau M, Slawig T, Somes CJ, Biastoch, A (2021) Perspectives on marine data science as a blueprint for emerging data science disciplines. Front Mar Sci 8: 678404

Weiland-Bräuer N, Pinnow N, Langfeldt D, Roik A, Güllert S, Chibani CM, Reusch TBH & Schmitz RA (2020) The native microbiome is crucial for offspring generation and fitness of Aurelia aurita. mBio 11: e02336-20

Wendling CC, Lange J, Liesegang H, Sieber M, Poehlein A, Bunk B, Rajkov J, Goehlich H, Roth O & Brockhurst MA (2022) Higher phage virulence accelerates the evolution of host resistance. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 289: 20221070


Ocean Health Symposia

Every two years the International Ocean Health Symposium takes place in Kiel, Germany. Jointly organized by the Kiel Marine Science (KMS) priority research area at Kiel University and the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, the symposia promote the exchange of international experts on the topic of ocean health with a focus on marine organismic health and the impact of marine pathogens on ecosystems and society. The most recent Kiel Symposium in 2022 has also been accepted as an activity under the UN Decade of Ocean Exploration and contributes to Goal 2, "A healthy and resilient ocean".
To the webpage of the joint press release

International Symposium: „Ocean Health: from emerging marine diseases, regulating functions, and governance implications“
Webpage of the Symposium

International Symposium: „Integrated Science for Future Ocean Health and Recovery“
Webpage of the Symposium

Recent events

Annual KMS Retreat