Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sustainable Fish Week 3-7 November 2014

Sustainable Fish Week 3-7 November 2014: urban legends in aquaculture


The third edition of the Sustainable Fish Week takes place between 3 and 7 November 2014 at Ghent University. The first edition took place in May 2012, with the concern 'How long can we still eat fish?'. A lot of fish are overfished and jellyfish are taking over the oceans. The second edition in November 2013 focussed on bycatch: fish or other animals (crabs, sea turtles, dolphins, sharks,...) caught unintentionally in a fishery. The bycatch is discarded and most of it does not survive this. The current edition has 'urban legends in aquaculture' as a central theme. 


How much do you know about aquaculture? Is 5 kg fish required to grow 1 kg of salmon? Is farmed fish full of antibiotics? Does aquaculture have a detrimental impact on the environment? Is pangasius farmed under unhealthy conditions, in a dirty pond? Participate in our poll (in Dutch) and then have a look at our poster (here) to learn more about it. 

Targeted actions will take place in the following restaurants: FPPW, Kantienberg (4 November), Astrid, De Brug (5 November), Diergeneeskunde, and Coupure (6 November). Campaign elements will be displayed in the other restaurants and cafetarias. 


Read more about the science cafe here.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Marine Spatial Planning in vain?

Failed integration hampers US marine planning, while round-­table leadership succeeds in Europe.


Significance: Marine spatial planning requires integration across sectors and between government levels. Vertical integration works in both Belgium and Norway despite different systems but it's not working in the US thereby delaying national marine planning. 


Increased use of marine space and multiple impacts are challenging issues for ecosystem­‐based management. Marine spatial planning offers an effective perspective to manage our seas and oceans in a sustainable way. Like the mythical King Arthur used a round table to secure cooperation of his noble but imperious knights, modern marine planning requires integration across sectors, and between government and civil society. This seems logical and simple, but not always obvious in practice. 


In a recent paper in the online and open­‐access scientific journal PlosONE, Erik Olsen and colleagues from Norway, Belgium and the US investigated the importance of integrating marine spatial planning into national marine policies. By comparing marine spatial planning developments in their respective countries, they showed that spatial planning requires political leadership and that integration of various sectors is critical to make the planning process successful. Lack of integration between executive and legislative branches as well as a failure to involve stakeholders can slow down the planning process, as is currently happening in the US.

Transparency is also central to establish integration between levels of government and with the stakeholders. In Norway and Belgium part of the planning process was kept behind closed doors, sometimes leading to disgruntled stakeholders. In contrast, all meetings in the US are open and all documents are made public, leading to more transparency and a better cooperation throughout the marine spatial planning process.


You can read the article here. More information in Dutch can be found on the ILVO website.

Figure: Just like king Arthur’s chivalrous knights, modern-­day marine spatial planning needs neutral round tables, where stakeholders and government can meet on an equal footing while creating the trust necessary for successful planning. (Painting by Michel Gantelet, 1472, Original at Bibliothèque nationale de France).


Questions of relevance to the national cases are referred to the national points of contact: For Belgium:
Prof. dr. Frank Maes, Head of the Department European, Public and International Law (EPIL), Research Director Maritime Institute, Faculty of Law, Ghent University ( and Kris Hostens (PhD), Senior scientist, Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research, Animal Sciences, Aquatic Environment and Quality, Bio-­Environmental research group (ILVO) ( 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Academy prize for science outreach

The Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts has awarded prof. Magda Vincx for two outreach projects: Marine Art and the Sustainable Fish Week. Marine Art created synergy between art and science - read the book here. The Sustainable Fish Week aims to get attention for overfishing (2012), bycatch (2013) and urban legends in aquaculture (2014). She is one of 12 laureates. 


You can register for the science communication event here and learn more about all awarded outreach projects. 12 November, 14h30, Academy Palace, Brussels. You can also vote for your favourite scientist and project on the Eos website



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Week van de Smaak: Smaakboot

De lekkerste week van het jaar komt er bijna weer aan! Tijdens de Week van de Smaak (van 13 tot 23 november) gaat Belgische vis on tour. Ga je graag mee aan boord van de Smaakboot? Haast je dan naar de viswinkel en organiseer je eigen vistournee generale! Hoe dat moet, dat ontdek je op Ben je bij de gelukkigen, dan win je een ticket voor twee personen voor een driegangenlunch op een historisch schip, een aankomstactiviteit én een overnachting in de ankerstad. Deelnemen kan nog tot 20 oktober.


Als je een ticket aan boord wint, krijg je misschien uitleg over de visserij van een van de Marine@UGent wetenschappers, want ook wij nemen deel! Elke dag op deze tocht geven een visser en een wetenschapper een woordje uitleg aan de genodigden. 


Bekijk het filmpje hier.



Thursday, October 9, 2014

China National Friendship award for professor Patrick Sorgeloos

China National Friendship award for professor Patrick Sorgeloos


Professor Patrick Sorgeloos (Laboratory of Aquaculture and Artemia Reference Center) and professor Jan Cornelis (VUB) received the China National Friendship Award for their long-term cooperation with China. 


Professor Sorgeloos gave his first lecture at the former Shandong College of Oceanography (now the Ocean University of China) already in May 1984 in Qingdao, China. Ever since, he and his staff cooperated with several universities in China, with researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Fisheries Sciences, with several Chinese companies and the Flemish company INVE Aquaculture which has a successful local establishment there (Tianjin INVE Aquaculture Co). More than 10 Chinese master and doctoral students received their diplomas aquaculture at Ghent University and this year the first "PhD double degree" was delivered between Ghent University and the Ocean University of China. 


This exceptional award illustrates professor Sorgeloos' commitment to build strong partnerships with Chinese centers of excellence. He is among the 100 people from 26 countries this year who are rewarded the prestigious National Friendship Award. All winners were thanked on behalf of China for their efforts and achievements by Ma Kai, Deputy Prime Minister of China.




Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tracing our ancestors at the bottom of the sea

New European Marine Board report recommends exploration of sea-submerged settlements abandoned by our ancestors.


A specialist group of European researchers are studying the remains of prehistoric human settlements which are now submerged beneath our coastal seas. Some of these drowned sites are tens of thousands of years old. From the progressive discovery and analysis of these prehistoric remains, a new scientific field has emerged, combining the expertise from many disciplines including archaeology, oceanography and the geosciences. The new field is called Continental Shelf Prehistoric Research.


This rapidly evolving research field is the focus of a new European Marine Board (EMB) position paper titled ‘Land Beneath the Waves: Submerged Landscapes and Sea-Level Change.’ The paper describes how during the successive ice ages of the last 1 million years, the sea level dropped at times by up to 120m, and the exposed area of the continental shelf added 40% to the land area of Europe; a terrain occupied by vegetation, fauna, and people. Consequently, many of the remains and artefacts of Europe’s prehistory are now underwater.


The new position paper provides a comprehensive overview of recent progress in the study of our submerged cultural heritage and sets out key research questions and policy priorities needed to support this research in the future. It is an invaluable resource for policy makers, research funders and scientists alike. Professor Jan Mees, Chair of the European Marine Board, explains its importance: “our submerged cultural heritage is not a renewable resource; it is a unique irreplaceable cultural asset which can provide answers to many research questions about our prehistoric ancestors, landscapes and climate.”


Download the paper here:


Read the press release.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Communication in Marine Sciences


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mares Conference: Marine Ecosystems Health and Conservation

Mares Conference

Marine Ecosystems Health and Conservation

17-21 November 2014, Olhão, Portugal


Registration deadline: October 10,  2014!


The Mares Conference on Marine Ecosystems Health and Conservation will take place in Olhão, Portugal, from 17 to 21 November 2014. Registration closes next Friday (10 October 2014), register here!


This international and open conference will bring together scientists from different levels and disciplines to discuss and address main issues about marine ecosystems health and conservation. Six themes will be developed through the conference, and for each one a keynote speaker has been invited.

The detailed scientific programme has been updated and abstracts are now available for reading.

Moreover, the scientific and organizing committees are delighted to announce that selected papers from the conference will be published in a special issue of Marine Environmental Research. Authors whose papers are accepted for presentation (oral and poster) are encouraged to submit full length research papers.


For more information about venue, social programme, etc. please visit the Mares conference website at  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Urban legends in de aquacultuur


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Assessing the impact of beach nourishment on the intertidal food web

Published paper: Assessing the impact of beach nourishment on the intertidal food web through the development of a mechanistic-envelope model


Beach nourishment, the placement of sand onto a sediment-starved stretch of coast, is widely applied as a soft coastal protection measure because of its reduced ecological impact relative to hard coastal protection. In order to predict effects on the intertidal sandy beach ecosystem, we developed a simulation model that integrates species envelope-based projections for the dominant macrobenthos species and mechanistic food web modules for higher trophic levels.

Species envelopes were estimated by using Bayesian inference of species’ biomass relationships according to the three determining abiotic variables: intertidal elevation, median grain size and total organic matter, obtained from multiple sampling campaigns along the Belgian
coast. Maximum potential abundance of higher trophic levels represented by birds, shrimp and flatfish were estimated based on their derived trophic relationship with macrobenthos.

After validation, we demonstrated that unlike nourishment slope, sediment grain size strongly determines beach-level species richness and production, with strong deterioration in species richness after nourishment with coarse sediment (>300 µm). Patterns for higher trophic
levels do not follow the changes in macrobenthos abundance and biomass.

Synthesis and applications. The optimal grain size range for nourishment of fine-grained beaches is 200–300 µm. This modelling approach shows that the impact assessment of beach nourishment needs to include the evaluation of different species richness and biomass variables.Focusing solely on the potential abundance of species from higher trophic levels might lead to deceptive conclusions due to the dominance of opportunistic prey species.


Figure extracted from the paper: Diagram of the modelled sandy beach food web (density patterns: light grey shaded area: microphytobenthos; dotted lines: macrobenthos; grey shaded area: Crangon crangon; and black shaded area: juvenile flatfish).


Read the paper here.

Authors: Sarah Vanden Eede, Joke Van Tomme, Charlotte De Busschere, Martijn L. Vandegehuchte, Koen Sabbe, Eric W.M. Stienen, Steven Degraer, Magda Vincx and Dries Bonte

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Environmental heat stress induces epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of robustness in parthenogenetic Artemia model

Published paper: Environmental heat stress induces epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of robustness in parthenogenetic Artemia model


The previous conception was that the genotype was responsible for defining phenotypes of an organism. However, recent findings suggest that environmental factors are also contributing to the development of phenotypes. This phenomenon occurs without any alteration in the DNA sequence of an organism. This non-DNA based control of phenotypes, commonly termed as ‘epigenetic’, is caused by modifications at the level of histones and/or DNA.


If and how these phenotypes are inherited across generations is still debated. Most studies carried out so far on transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of (environmentally-induced) phenotypes failed to exclude parental effects, could not or did not demonstrate the heritability of traits across several generations, were not sufficiently replicated to distinguish stochastic effects from treatment or did not integrate phenotypic characterization with more detailed molecular and genetic analysis.


Selection of an appropriate animal model that allows to better delineate the contribution of epigenetics to the inheritance of acquired traits is of high importance. The apomictic parthenogenetic Artemia, an aquatic invertebrate, represents an exceptional model for studying transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. It has a short generation time and is able to parthenogenetically generate clonal offspring, a feature that minimizes genetic variability in the experiments. Moreover, this invertebrate produces dormant eggs (cysts), which allows for carrying out ‘common garden experiments’, i.e. the simultaneous testing of animals from subsequent generations - a convenient property if one seeks to minimize environmental interference in experiments.


In our study, by carrying out common garden experiments, we could provide clear evidence that, upon exposure to an environmental factor i.e. non-lethal heat shocks, a parental population of parthenogenetic (all female) Artemia (originating from one single female) experiences an increase in the:

1) levels of Hsp70 production,

2) tolerance towards lethal heat stress,

and 3) resistance against pathogenic V. campbellii.

Interestingly, these acquired phenotypic traits were transmitted to three successive generations, none of which was exposed to the parental stressor. This transgenerational inheritance of the acquired traits was associated with altered levels of global DNA methylation and acetylated histones H3 and H4 in the heat-shocked group compared to the control group, where both the parental and its successive generations were reared at standard temperature. These results indicate that epigenetic mechanisms, such as global DNA methylation and histones H3 and H4 acetylation have particular dynamics that are crucial in the heritability of the acquired adaptive phenotypic traits across generations.


You can read the paper here. Authors: Parisa Norouzitallab, Kartik Baruah, Michiel Vandegehuchte, Gilbert Van Stappen, Francesco Catania, Julie Vanden Bussche, Lynn Vanhaecke, Patrick Sorgeloos, and Peter Bossier.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Marine biological valuation of the shallow Belgian coastal zone

Published paper "Marine biological valuation of the shallow Belgian coastal zone: A space-use conflict example within the context of marine spatial planning". 


The Belgian coastal zone hosts a complex of space- and resource-use activities with a myriad of pressures. Specifically at the beaches, predictions on sea-level rise, storms and flood risk from the North Sea have led to several big coastal defence projects. Management of sandy beaches is therefore a multifaceted and complex endeavour, where the interests of several stakeholders need to be combined and
where biodiversity should be taken into account. 

In this study, the biological value of the shallow Belgian coastal zone was derived based on a detailed and integrated dataset (1995-2011) of all available ecological information on macrobenthos, epibenthos, hyperbenthos and birds. The 67 km Belgian coastline was divided into an across-shore intertidal and shallow subtidal subzone, and into along-shore subzones of 250 m for benthic components and 3 km for birds. The intrinsic biological value of each subzone was then calculated using the biological valuation method, and the pertained score, ranging from very low to very high, was plotted accordingly in order to obtain a marine biological valuation map.

Following trends were detected:

(1) a strong mosaic pattern of biological value along the coastline;

(2) a clear lack of (benthic) data at the eastern part of the Belgian coast;

(3) a rather high biological value in around 70% of the shallow subtidal subzones, compared to the intertidal part;

and (4) a high/very high biological value in intertidal zones located immediately to the east of the harbours of Nieuwpoort, Oostende and Zeebrugge.

A detailed analysis of protected areas and areas under coastal flood risk indicated that biological valuation maps are very promising management tools for local decision-makers as they allow for an early integration of ‘natural/ecological values’ in policy implementation.


Picture: Detailed information on the biological value of the protected area 'Zwin' located at the shallow Belgian coastal zone (NA: not available; SPA: Special Protection Area (Birds Directive); SAC: Special Area of Conservation (Habitats Directive)): an overall medium score, whereas intertidal subzones located near Baai van Heist have high/very high scores. 


Read the paper here. Authors: Sarah Vanden Eede, Lia Laporta, Klaas Deneudt, Eric Stienen, Sofie Derous, Steven Degraer, Magda Vincx.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Additive modelling reveals spatiotemporal PCBs trends in marine sediments

We developed generalised additive mixed models (GAMMs) to infer spatiotemporal trends of environmental PCB concentrations from an extensive dataset (n = 1219) of PCB concentrations measured between 1991 and 2010 in sediments of the Belgian Coastal Zone (BCZ) and the Western Scheldt estuary. A GAMM with time, geographical zone, periodicity and the organic carbon – water partition coefficient as covariates explained 49% of the variability in the log transformed PCB sediment concentrations. The time trends unraveled two to threefold PCB concentration decreases in the BCZ during the last 20 years. However, in the Western Scheldt estuary, time trends were spatially heterogeneous and not significantly decreasing. These results demonstrate that international efforts to cut down emissions of PCBs have been effective to reduce concentrations in open water ecosystems like the BCZ but had little effect in the urbanised and industrialised area of the Scheldt estuary.


Published paper: Gert Everaert, Frederik De Laender, Klaas Deneudt, Patrick Roose, Jan Mees, Peter L.M. Goethals, Colin R. Janssen. Additive modelling reveals spatiotemporal PCBs trends in marine sediments. Marine Pollution Bulletin 79 (2014) 47–53. 

Read the article here.

Read a press release in Dutch here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Link between diatoms and a novel anti-fouling strategy

For many years, researchers thought of bacteria as individual cells, unable to interact with one another. However, this view changed dramatically with the discovery that bacteria can sense each other and coordinate their behavior in a process known as quorum sensing. Instead of a language bacteria utilize signal molecules to communicate.


Diatoms are a major group of algae and one of the most common types of phytoplankton. Diatoms and bacteria have co-occurred in common habitats for millions of years. However, scientist’s understanding of these ancient organisms interactions is quite limited. In aquatic environments, all surfaces are susceptible to biofouling, which is the accumulation of microorganisms, plants, algae, or animals on wetted surfaces. Interestingly, biofouling is directly linked to quorum sensing. Therefore, discovering methods of interfering with quorum sensing has triggered scientists to provide novel anti-infective and anti-fouling strategies.


Previous research has shown that diatoms produce a variety of halogenated compounds, which are involved in interactions between competing species. The production of these compounds is linked to enzymatic activity and more specifically haloperoxidases. In this collaborative research, between the laboratory of Protistology & Aquatic Ecology and the Synbioc research group it was shown that the natural haloperoxidase system from the benthic diatom Nitzschia cf pellucida is also involved in diatom-bacteria interactions by chemically inactivating a certain type of quorum sensing molecules. The disruption of these signal molecules can prevent bacteria from creating biofilm and therefore could be exploited as a novel anti-fouling strategy. 


Read the published paper here.

Read a press relaese in Dutch here.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Integrated food web model to test the impact of fisheries management scenarios on the coastal ecosystem of Vietnam

Published paper by the Aquatic Ecology Research Unit


A model was developed for the coastal marine ecosystem of Vietnam to evaluate interaction between fisheries and the food web, using fisheries data from 2000 to 2005. Comparing the maximum trophic level of fish estimated by the model and the mean trophic level of the catch indicates that fisheries have been harvesting high trophic level species. Using the model, we found that maintaining the fishing effort at the 2000-2005 level puts the coastal marine resources at risk as the biomasses of 10 out of 12 stocks decline by 5-20% in a 15 years period. A 20% fishing effort reduction of fish and shrimp trawling or gillnet and purse seine fishing still resulted in 10% biomass reductions of several key functional groups. Reducing fishing effort for all fisheries by 10% increased the biomass of almost all groups in the ecosystem up to 14%. Meeting social and economic, but not ecological constraints required an increase from 4 to 8.5-fold in fishing effort and resulted in the collapse of sea turtle, tuna, small pelagic fish and cephalopods. When only meeting ecological constraints, fishing efforts reduced for 4 out of the 8 fisheries, e.g. a 95% reduction was recommended for the gillnet fishery. A trade-off scenario indicated that achieving economic, social, and ecological goals was possible by 4-fold increase of traditional small-scale fisheries (e.g. handline), combined with 20-65% reductions of fish trawl and purse seine fisheries. 


Read more.

Authors: Pham Viet Anh, Frederik De Laender, Gert Everaert, Chu Tien Vinh, Peter Goethals


Read a press release in Dutch here.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Project MINIMOUND: study of cold-water coral mounds in the Bay of Biscay

Cold-water corals are found along the entire north-eastern Atlantic margin. These coral reefs can accumulate into large mounds of up to 250m high. The aim of the MINIMOUND project is to study the initiation, growth and demise of 'small' cold-water coral mounds and identify the role of climatic and hydrocarbon-seepage related processes as well as the anthropogenic impact. 


The study region is the Bay of Biscay, and more specifically 3 sites: (1) the Explorer and Dangeard Canyons, (2) the Guilvinec Canyon, and (3) the Upper Ferroi Canyon.  A coupled geophysical, sedimentological and integrative approach will be used, including a palaeoceanographic and biogeochemical study of cores. Drop frame images will allow habitat mapping and predictive modelling of these habitats. 


Curious what scientists do on board of the research vessel Belgica during the sampling campaign? Have a look at this entertaining video. Campaign led by the Renard Centre of Marine Geology and chief scientist professor David Van Rooij. 


Read more about the project on the MUMM website or download an abstract here.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

EMBC thesis event

The EMBC, or  the international MSC in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, thesis event took place from Monday to Thursday 23-26 June 2014. This master programme is offered by a consortium of 7 universities from Belgium (Ghent University), Germany (University of Bremen), Portugal (University of Algarve), France (University of Pierre and Marie Curie), Spain (University of Oviedo), Lithuania (Klaipeda University), and Ireland (Galway Mayo Institute of Technology). Student mobility is an integral part of the programme, so students are obliged to study at different universities. 


The thesis defence for the cohort 2012-2014 was organized at Ghent University (the coordinating university of the EMBC programme) from 23 to 26 June 2014. This public defence is the final deliverable. A much broader audience was able to follow all the presentations through video conferencing techniques. Teachers and thesis evaluators followed and commented on the presentations through online live video facilities. 


Diplomas were awarded by prof. K. Versluys (director of department of educational affairs), prof. H. Dejonghe (dean of the faculty of sciences) and representative professors from the partner universities. During the proclamation, prizes were awarded to outstanding students: 

- Prize Carlo Heip, dedicated to the most deserving student of the ERASMUS MUNDUS Master of Science in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (EMBC)

- EMBC best thesis award, given to the student who obtains the best overall thesis score.

- Best thesis presentation prize, awarded to the student who is giving the best thesis presentation during the thesis defense. 


You can read the book of abstracts here.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Highly Cited Researchers

Professor Verstraete (Laboratory of Microbial Ecology and Technology) has been included in the updated list of 'Highly Cited Researchers 2014' which represents some of world’s leading scientific minds. This list has been generated by Thomson Reuters and complements a previously published list that can be found on To identify influential researchers, field-by-field, Thomson Reuters now only focussed on the period 2002-2012 and only 'highly cited papers' were considered: those that rank in the top 1% by citations for field and year indexed in the Web of Science. Having written several 1% papers was interpreted as a mark of exceptional impact, rewarded by selection for this prestigious list. Professor Verstraete is one of the 26 researchers from Ghent University who are included in the list. 


Read more on the UGent website (in Dutch) or on



Thursday, June 12, 2014

Francqui Foundation Fellowship for Marine@UGent member Dr. Jana Asselman

Dr. Jana Asselman (GhenToxlab) received a Francqui Foundation Fellowship of the Belgian American Educational Foundation for the year 2014-2015. The fellowship is sponsored by the Francqui Foundation and is only awarded after a selection process based on the scientific excellence of the candidate and the research proposal and this year, nine researchers were awarded a Francqui Foundation Fellowship. This fellowship will allow Dr. Asselman to spend a year at Notre Dame University as a postdoctoral fellow (USA) and conduct innovative genomics research at the lab of Prof. Michael Pfrender. The project will focus on the effects of metals to freshwater organisms exposed to salinity stress. Furthermore, this project will also provide a unique opportunity to strenghten the collaboration between GhenToxLab and the lab of Prof. Pfrender. 


Read this on the UGent website (in Dutch).


Thursday, June 12, 2014

We have a winner!

Marine@UGent had launched its first video contest for young marine researchers. These movies can inspire students and learn them something about marine research or the ocean in general. We received four beautifully made and interesting movies from various disciplines. 


Even though the Marine@UGent community found it very difficult to determine a winner, one movie received most votes: "Jumping is not a crime, it's a way of fishing", by Maarten Soetaert. This movie about electric fishing has been found to be very informative. Congratulations, Maarten! 


The other movies are also worth watching! 

"A day at the Mont Saint-Michel", by Bart De Smet. A day in the life of a marine biologist. 

"GhEnToxLab at work", by David Deruytter. How do scientists study the impact of pollution on marine life. 

"The deep sea", by Lidia Lins Pereira. Learn more about this fascinating environment. 


Feeling inspired to make a movie about your research? Contact us!