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

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 DAAD. 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 Feodor Lynen Research Fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and now a leading researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute, 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.

The experts

  • Clara Hoppe Clara Hoppe
  • Henry Wu Henry Wu

Clara is a former Feodor Lynen Research Fellow and is now senior researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute at the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research. Her main research interests are the effects of climate change on Arctic primary producers, a topic she studied during her fellowship at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Recently, she participated in the yearlong 'Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate' (MOSAiC) expedition to the central Arctic, where she coordinated the ecosystem sampling program.




Foto: RBU

Henry is currently the Junior Research Group Leader of the Coral Climatology Working Group at the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research in Bremen, Germany, which has been made possible by the "Make Our Planet Great Again – German Research Initiative" funded by the BMBF and administered by the DAAD. Henry and his group specialise in coral reefs, oceanography and climatology, focusing on understanding modern climate change and environmental variability in the recent past.




Foto: Jens Lehmkühler/U Bremen Research Alliance

  • Marlus Oliveira Marlus Oliveira
  • Hawis Madduppa Hawis Madduppa

Hawis Madduppa is Associate Professor and Head of Marine Biodiversity and Biosystematics Laboratory at the Department of Marine Science and Technology Bogor Agricultural University. He pursued his PhD in marine biology and biotechnology at the University of Bremen, Germany. His research interests are related to marine biodiversity and conservation, dispersal and connectivity of marine environment, ecology and biology of marine fish, population genetics (phylogeography), biosystematics, fish habitat restoration and rehabilitation, and using fish as biological indicator. He is actively researching on whale shark across Indonesia since 2013, and he is the advisor of Whale Shark Indonesia (WS-ID), a collaborative initiative to manage and conserve whale shark in Indonesia. He is board of Biorock Indonesia, who is working for marine ecosystem restoration and rehabilitation all around Indonesia. He is member of a collaborative network – Diversity of the Indo-Pacific Network (DIPnet) – which is aiming to promote collaboration and advocate best practices for conducting biodiversity research. He is adjunct research fellow (2016-2018) and Honorary Research Associate (2018-2021) at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He is elected as member of Indonesian Young Academy of Sciences (ALMI – Akademi Ilmuwan Muda Indonesia) in 2017, and now as ALMI’s Secretary General. Currently, he is developing a start-up called Oceanogen to facilitate marine biodiversity exploration in Indonesia since 2020.


Photo: private

Hawis Madduppa ist Associate Professor und Leiter des Marine Biodiversity and Biosystematics Laboratory am Department of Marine Science and Technology, der Bogor Agricultural University. Er promovierte in Meeresbiologie und Biotechnologie an der Universität Bremen. Seine Forschungsinteressen beziehen sich auf marine Biodiversität und Erhaltung, Verbreitung und Konnektivität der Meeresumwelt, Ökologie und Biologie von Meeresfischen, Populationsgenetik (Phylogeographie), Biosystematik, Wiederherstellung und Rehabilitation von Fischhabitaten und die Verwendung von Fischen als biologischer Indikator. Er forscht seit 2013 aktiv über Walhaie in Indonesien und ist Berater von Whale Shark Indonesia (WS-ID), einer Gemeinschaftsinitiative zur Beobachtung und Erhaltung von Walhaien in Indonesien. Er ist Vorstand von Biorock Indonesia, die sich für die Wiederherstellung und Rehabilitation mariner Ökosysteme in ganz Indonesien einsetzt. Er ist Mitglied eines Kooperationsnetzwerks – Diversity of the Indo-Pacific Network (DIPnet) – das Kollaborationen und Best Practices der Biodiversitätsforschung fördert. Er ist Adjunct Research Fellow (2016-2018) und Honorary Research Associate (2018-2021) an der Victoria University of Wellington, Neuseeland. 2017 wurde er zum Mitglied der Indonesischen Jungen Akademie der Wissenschaften (ALMI - Akademi Ilmuwan Muda Indonesia) gewählt und ist nun deren Generalsekretär. Derzeit entwickelt er ein Start-up namens Oceanogen, um die Erforschung der marinen Biodiversität in Indonesien seit 2020 zu fördern.




Foto: privat

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 German Chancellor Fellowship 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 International Decade of Marine Research for Sustainable Development. 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.


Author: Josefine Janert


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