NIOZ 2019: Steady Seas

Our Ocean, Our Coast, Our Future

By the time this NIOZ Annual Report 2019 reaches you, in Spring 2020, our world has changed. COVID-19 rules the waves. Yet, a new dawn is becoming apparent, and while we are getting back on our feet, we are more aware of the power of natural forces than ever before. Understanding nature, and related research, education and outreach, are now even higher national and international priorities. For the marine sciences, and for NIOZ, the announced IOC-UNESCO Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030 sets the scene indeed, more, and in more ways, than we realized.

But back in 2019, nobody expected the horrific storm that was on its way. In effect, on relatively steady seas, the year witnessed the coming of age of NIOZ 2.0. The institute, at its two locations Texel (TX) and Yerseke (YE), now fully equipped and loaded with talent, is successfully performing advanced, multidisciplinary, integrated fundamental and frontier-applied marine research with strong societal and scientific impact, with a global scope, and with high visibility.

Mission Blue Planet The basis of all this was laid down in our 2015-2020 science plan Mission Blue Planet. As a matter of fact, our research yielded critical new insights into the complexity of the deltas, seas and oceans, and has brought “ocean issues” to the forefront of public and political discussion. All this is very much in line with the international grand challenges associated with living with warming oceans in the Anthropocene and linking up with the various preparations for the Decade. Indeed, for the now well-functioning NIOZ, it is time to follow up our Mission Blue Planet with a renewed strategic and scientific vision.

Connecting Science and Society

Starting in 2018 in a bottom-up fashion, we began working on our follow-up strategic and research plan for 2020-2025, provisionally termed Our Ocean, Our Coast, Our Future. A first concept materialized early in 2019, further matured, and was discussed with our suite of stakeholders, Utrecht University in particular. With this new plan, NIOZ aims not only to further strengthen and expand its role as the national marine “hub”. Rather, serving the national scientific and societal needs we wish to establish a set of true, widely supported ‘national marine research programs’ on the most pressing issues with our stakeholders. Upon further approval, and kicking off through the existing NIOZ-UU collaboration, we will seek broad external cooperation, eventually forming a large national consortium of research entities of various nature, sizes, backgrounds and expertise, including national institutes for applied sciences with a marine or maritime signature, industry, policymakers and even NGOs where and when feasible. As such, these efforts fit well within NWO’s strategy, Connecting Science and Society, and notably its and our ‘Nexus’ role.

Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030
Most NIOZ departments and facilities are located on the Wadden Island of Texel, with two key research areas at our doorstep: the unique tidal environment of the Wadden Sea and the economically and ecologically important North Sea.
NIOZ was successful in obtaining significant research grants

As part of the ‘coming of age’ of the institute, we have successfully attracted and mentored new scientific talent. Moreover, and e.g., also with thanks to the so-called Aspasia-grant awarded to Dr Femke de Jong (OCS), we paid special attention to the theme ‘diversity and inclusiveness in science’, along with underscoring other elementary themes such as integrity. Through the various courses and related activities organized by the HRM department, every group, and every individual within NIOZ has been participating in one way or another in this institute-wide process.

The positive trends of 2017-2018 continued in 2019 as we celebrated the successes of many of our PIs receiving important (inter) national personal and/or other large project grants this year. These included Dr Jan van Gils (VICI), Dr Allert Bijleveld (VENI), Dr Julia Engelmann (WISE), and Dr Aimee Slangen (H2020). Among our junior scientists, there was an NWO Rubicon grant, and the Paul van Oye price (best PhD of 2019) for now Dr Tanja Stratmann (EDS). In addition, Dr Helge Niemann (MMB) was appointed honorary professor at Utrecht University. Also, our academic output peaked at an all-time high of 321 peer-reviewed papers appearing in high-impact journals, of which 241 (>60%) in open access literature. In addition, some 12 NIOZ PhD candidates received their respective doctorals in 2019.

Significant research grants

Furthermore, NIOZ was successful in obtaining significant national and international research grants, adding to the stable growth of the institute. In 2019, these included a larger than ever before spread in both sources (granting agencies) and types, like e.g., the NWO grants Forage Fish (Dr Rob Witbaard, EDS), and LOCO-EX, The Dutch Wadden Sea as an event-driven system (Dr Theo Gerkema, EDS), but also the PROTECT project EU H2020 grant (Dr Aimee Slangen, EDS), a ZonMW grant, FISHH: First Immunotox Screening of microplastics on Human Health, (Prof Linda Amaral-Zettler and Prof Helge Niemann, MMB), a NWO Topsector Water & Maritiem grant to investigate dredged harbour sediment as carbon neutral building material (Dr Peter Kraal, OCS), a NWO-TTW grant, The effect of water quality on the acoustic footprint of ships (Sound-2) (Prof Gert-Jan Reichart, OCS), another NWO-TTW grant North Sea Reef Vitalization For Ecosystem Services (Prof Tjeerd Bouma, EDS), and a ‘Waddenfonds’ support project Waddentools – Swimway (Dr Anieke van Leeuwen and Dr Allert Bijleveld, COS, and together with WUR-WMR).

Also new was the NWO ‘X’ type of grants, where Prof Helge Niemann (MMB) was successful. Besides, since NIOZ is participating in two national super-scale Zwaartekracht projects, a so-called ‘Connector grant’ was obtained from the SIAM project, viz: Ecophysiology, metagenomics and lipidomics of nitrite-oxidizing bacteria under oxygen deprivation, by Dr Darci Rush (MMB). In addition, ad hoc funds related to monitoring the consequences of the MSC Zoe disaster were raised by a.o. Profs Helge Niemann (MMB) and Tjisse van der Heide (COS), and studies are underway. From the ‘National Research Agenda’ (NWA) front, news came about that the NIOZ led, large-scale proposal ‘C2OCEAN’ in the frame of the NWA ‘Blue Route’ programme (Prof Gert-Jan Reichart (OCS), Ir Marck Smit) is through to the final round. A healthy spread of grants in more than one way, all underscoring the success of the institute.

Our academic output peaked at an all-time high of 321 peer-reviewed papers
Our department of Estuarine & Delta Systems Research is based in Yerseke, on the Eastern Scheldt, focusing on the interactions between organisms and their physical and chemical environments in estuaries and deltas.
Luctor et Emergo

In terms of new infrastructure, both the new NIOZ Benthos Lab facility (COS) at Texel, and the NIOZ Underwater Lab facility (EDS) in Yerseke should certainly be mentioned here. Both enjoyed well-attended, and enjoyable openings, and are now in full operational mode. Of the many events organised by NIOZ in 2019, the extraordinarily successful NIOZ TX ‘open’ to the public day 2019 should be highlighted. Managed by the NIOZ communication-and-everybody-else team, the event attracted some 1500 people from Texel and ‘the main land’. Also, in terms of interaction with the public, NIOZ played an important role in the so-called S.E.A. Science Encounters Art project on Texel, among other efforts.

The Taskforce Research Fleet Renewal, with Wouter Kruijt and – the newbie in 2019 – Alex Cofino (as new head NMF) as project coordinators, made tremendous progress. Under the leadership of Prof Gert-Jan Reichart (head OCS), a solid, large infrastructure proposal including the needs and wishes of the national marine and maritime communities was launched towards NWO. While this annual report is being completed, we are close to the final decisions that would propel the new ships to be operational by the end of 2022.

Internationally, in addition to our nearby EU partner institutes, NIOZ was active within the European Marine Board, and within the Partnership for the Observation of the Global Ocean (POGO). Furthermore, long-standing cooperation with our German colleagues from both the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), and the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Researh in Warnemünde (IOW) was manifested in a new MoU, adding them to the long list of NIOZ's international partner institutes, in the presence of HRH the King (and Queen) of the Netherlands.

These highlights are just a small selection of all the activities and achievements of the institute in 2019. Again, I thank all of NIOZ for their spirit, energy and passion in reaching our goals. With that, and the traditional motto of the Province of Zeeland, ‘Luctor et Emergo’, we will survive the storm. And, remember, the Decade of the Ocean is coming. Are you joining? We will meet you there.

Henk Brinkhuis, Director May 2020

A solid, large infrastructure proposal was launched

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