From the Arctic to the Coral Triangle: climate change is perceptible everywhere

Turtle in the polluted ocean
© Getty Images/richcarey

Which factors exert the greatest negative impact on the oceans? When moderator José Bolaños posed this question, the participants at a digital event on 10 November 2021 quickly agreed on answers: pollution, waste, noise, and climate change. This also reflected the views of the four experts that Alumniportal Deutschland had invited to this podium discussion entitled ‘The state of our oceans – endangered habitats, vulnerable climate’.

Henry Wu leads a junior researchers group involved in coral climatology at the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research. This is enabled by a funding programme called ‘Make Our Planet Great Again – German Research Initiative’ financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and administered by the . Wu presented some disturbing figures: 95 per cent of the corals in eastern Asia are said to be at risk. In the Atlantic this is reported as 75 per cent, in the Indian Ocean 65 per cent. ‘Climate change means that coral bleaching will occur more frequently in the future’, the researcher states.

Corals usually live in symbiosis with unicellular algae, which give them their colours. Warming of the oceans results in them shedding these and they thus lose their source of nutrients. They rise up like pale skeletons. This bleaching not only destroys the corals themselves, but also living organisms in their surroundings.

Predicting the future based on the Arctic

In addition to climate change as a global influence, Wu also cited local stress factors such as unregulated fishing, and water contaminated by pesticides, plastic waste and other substances.

Marine biologist and DAAD alumnus Hawis Madduppa believes that intensive shipping also plays a part. He is an associate professor and head of the Laboratory for Marine Biodiversity and Biosystematics at the Agricultural University in Bogor. Madduppa’s home country of Indonesia is located in the so-called Coral Triangle – a region of the world that is the habitat for a particularly large number of corals.

Clara Hoppe, a former at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and now a leading researcher at the , Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, reported that climate change and pollutants threaten even more marine life. She deals in particular with micro algae, which are an important source of nutrients for other living organisms. These are deteriorating due to the higher temperatures and acidification of the water. ‘The Arctic is key to understanding the effects of climate change’, says this researcher. ‘Warming is taking place there twice as fast as in the rest of the world.’ Researchers could therefore use the Arctic to make predictions on global developments. Hoppe considers that what they are uncovering there is very worrying.


Together against rubbish in the sea

The fourth expert taking part in the podium discussion, Brazilian Marlus Oliveira, is combating rubbish in the sea. This lawyer has a master's degree in environmental engineering and received a from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for his research. ‘What worries me most is that many people aren’t aware of the consequences of their actions. Their rubbish isn’t a local problem’, Oliveira said. Plastic packaging that is thrown into the gutter near his home in Rio de Janeiro could wash up on the shores of another continent.

This lawyer warns that ‘The issue of rubbish cannot be solved by the United Nations, the authorities and new technologies alone’. ‘People also need to rethink.’ He talked about a few low-cost and effective approaches that he has encountered in various countries: a small fish drawn on the wall draws the attention of passers-by in a developing country to the fact that what they throw down the drain is transported unfiltered into the sea. Yellow footprints painted on the footpath mark the route to the nearest rubbish bin. Oliveira said that he was also impressed by the deposit system in Germany.

More investment and interdisciplinary research

Hawis Madduppa called for intensive cooperation between government authorities and academia, as well as environmental education for the population. ‘Many people still don’t know what climate change is and what it means if biodiversity declines’, he says. People working on fishing boats would for example need to be trained in returning all their equipment and materials to shore and reusing them.

The United Nations has declared the years 2021 to 2030 as the. The oceans and their role in the context of climate change were also on the agenda at the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow. Improving their condition will be a complex process that can only succeed given cooperation among states. The podium discussion made this abundantly clear. And also that something has to happen soon to save the seas and their inhabitants.

Read further on the Alumniportal Deutschland

Researchers involved in robotics can discover a lot from nature. Dr Robert Siddall works in the field of ‘bio-inspired robotics’ and has organised a contest to bring young people closer to the subject.

Climate change can only be solved on an interdisciplinary basis. International climate protection scholarship holders at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation have therefore created a network in which experts from all faculties can exchange ideas about various aspects regarding climate protection. Their podcasts shall raise public awareness of the topic.


  • Vel


    This is so bad, i hope people can taking this issue serious :(

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