Final day at the EMBS

Well, it has been a very interesting and inspiring symposium, as the EMBS always is. We have been well fed, both with science, cake and drink by all the lovely organizers, who have worked very hard during the week.

Today, there were som interesting talks, such as that by Laura Kauppi from Tvärminne fieldstation in Finland. She presented how the effect of the invasive polychaete Marenzelleria spp. differs between shallow and deep bottoms in the Gulf of Finland. This is a species that we also have in Sweden, and it is important to know how it affects the ecosystem.

The very entertaining Trine Bekkby from NIVA in Norway held a very pedagogical talk on how to use models and when to top due to data deficiency. This was really nice, as many of us agreed on afterwards, since one often just hears the results, not much on hpw it is done “backstage”. Another nice thing is that Trine works on kelps, so the examples were interesting and there were some nice pictures of kelp.

Todays plenary talk was by professor Bernd Blasius, entitled The risk of marine invasion by global shipping. It is very interesting to see the maps of how different species have been unintentionally transported around the globe and how they have managed to either blend in or totally take over in different habitats. The most difficult part of this research is apparently to get the data over ship movement, and a lot of time is spent pleading with authorities, shippers and harbour authorities. There is huge amounts of work put into the maps and graphs presented. He rightly point out that if you show a diagram, perhaps some expert in a conference might be interested. If you make a picture, then the press will come. And, apparently, the U.S Navy. A very thought-provoking presentation. I wonder if the early seafarers ever envisioned the intensity of shipping that the oceans see today.

The conference closed with a very amusing summary of professor Hempel, who was a participant of the very first EMBS here on Helgoland 50 years ago. He reflected over the changes of the EMBS, saying it was now a younger, female dominated symposium, which was positive. He also mentioned the very nice presentation by Angela Wulff, and how micro organisms were now more popular, bridging the gap between organism biologists and molecular biologists.

Herman Hummel presented the poster and presentation prizes to PhD students, handed out by the MARS network and MBA. Mark Frost of the Marine Biology Association first presented the different memberships, urging all and sundry with an interest in marine biology to sign up as members. First prize of 250 EUR went to Norwegian collegue Ann Evankow and the two 100 EUR prizes to Merle Bollen and Christopher Gross.

And so, finally, this years Yellow Submarine was won by Russia, who made a huge gorgonian seastar, also honouring the biggest calstle (Team Asia) and most creative castle by Team Finland (although cleverly disguised as Norway during the award ceremony).

Day 3 and 4 of the EMBS at Helgoland

Wednesday at week-long conferences is usually the day with excursions. Today, we started out with some talks in the morning, among them Alexey Sukhotin showing different studies done at the Russian field station Kartesh in the White Sea over the last 50 years. This was very interesting to us, as Lena went there in 1995 and we would like to return and do some experiments on their Fucus vesiculosus populations.
Also, Hartvig Christie held another talk on the Norwegian kelp forests and seagrass beds, this time on how they can survive being both food and habitat. This study clearly shows how fish help maintaining the kelp and seagrass by feeding on the any grazing gastropods and crustaceans that would otherwise prove too much grazing pressure for these ecosystems.

Since the sun was out and the wind was low, we went for a discovery trip up on the oberland, admiring the view of the North Sea horizon and the interesting geology of the island.

The red sandstone of Helgoland

The red sandstone of Helgoland

We took our packed luch by the nesting colony of Northern gannet, Morus bassanus.

Nestng colony of Northern gannet

Nestng colony of Northern gannet

The birds seem not to mind the passing humans

The birds seem not to mind the passing humans

It was rather sad to see how they have used plastic or nylon netting for nesting material. Several young birds have gotten entangled in the nets and died, so the colonies were draped with more or less mummified birds hanging from the rock.

Plastic as nesting material comes with a prize

Plastic as nesting material comes with a prize

Lange Anna, a monument to erosin by wind and waves.

Lange Anna, a monument to erosin by wind and waves.

After some mandatory selfies at Long Anna at the tip of the island, we walked back towards unterland, passing the local allotment area. Gardening here is very affected by the wind, but lots of dense hedges seems to do the trick.

The allotment gardeners have plenty of sun, rain and seaweed as fertilizer. Using hedges to screen out the wind makes for bumper crops.

The allotment gardeners have plenty of sun, rain and seaweed as fertilizer. Using hedges to screen out the wind makes for bumper crops.

In the afternoon, we took the boat over to Düne to look at the seals and browse the shores there for interesting finds. There are so many beautiful speciments of Laminaria hyperborea kelp here, and I would like to bring all of them home. Best not, I think. A kelp forest in a small appartment might not be such a good idea.

The beuty of kelp, even when washed on to the beach.

The beuty of kelp, even when washed on to the beach.

Typical dune landscape, with few but tough species

Typical dune landscape, with few but tough species

After enjoying the dune-landscape with its typical flora and falcons, we strolled to the southern beach, where the conference dinner and Yellow Submarine competition would be held. The Yellow Submarine has been running since 1968 and although its all in good fun, it is still a prestigeous prize to win.

The Swedish team compeating for the Yellow Submarine. Nils, Lena, Ellen and Angela.

The Swedish team compeating for the Yellow Submarine.
Nils, Lena, Ellen and Angela.

This year, we entered a strong team for Sweden, with no less than 3 professors and one fresh-from-the-oven doctor. Lena and Nils kautsky, Angela Wulff and yours truly worked hard, spinning around bottles, answering questions while building sand castles and collecting water (huge effort by aquatic gazelle Angela).

All the teams did very well and the winner will be announced later in the week. The evening ended pleasantly late after drinks and high spirits amongs all.

Day 2 of the EMBS on Helgoland

After a crab-pizza for dinner and a good nights sleep, it is yet another day of interesting talks on the EMBS conference.

Another day of interesting talks!

Another day of interesting talks!

Agnese Marchini from Italy presented her research on foreign visitors in Venice lagoon. There are 71 non-native species in this one lagoon, most came from Japan, but also Indo-Pacific and other origin. Most of these have been introduced by boats, as Venice is the main port for cruiseships in the Mediterranean. There are also oyster and clam farms, who import the ”seeds” from other countries, enabling hitchikers to sneak along. The pacific oyster Crassostera gigas was first introduced in 1966 and expanded enormously in the mid 70’s, still showing a high rate of expansion. The brown macroalgae Undaria pinnatifida and Sargasum muticum are also present, forming large floating mats in favourable condditions. Many species have been shown to be poly-vector spread, meaning that they might arrive on an oyster but then hitch a ride with another species to spread further into the Mediterranean. If you want to look for new species in a harbour, the wooden structures of for example the diktalbs is a very good substrate for first settlement. It is not possible to eradicate the new species in Venice lagoon, but it might be possible to prevent new introductions and contain those who are there, with good management measures.

Her collegue Jasmine Ferrario followed, in the same track, presenting her work as a PhD on investigating if harbours and nerby marinas share the same non-native species or not. Sampling one harbour and one marina each in three different regions by scraping gave 16 non-native species out of 260 total number of species collected. Some species are recent arrivals, such as a cute ghost-shrimp, and they also found 2 new species not previously found in the Mediterranean Sea. One of them was also first record outside the Pacific Ocean! Jasmines research show how recreational boating is a vector which helps spreading new species in the Mediterranean. Harbours do not seem to differ in species composition, being fairly similar, but marinas do. The results that the marinas had the same or even higher number of non-native species was contraty to what was expected, and an important finding for management of the non-native species in the Mediterranean Sea.

Anya Zalota from Russia then spoke of crustaceans, deapods in particular, found in Russian waters, pointing out that the far East is lacking information since it has not been studied. Many non-native species have been found, but not established, in Russian waters. The highest record of non-native species is of course the Black Sea, and the polar seas seem to have only native species. Taking previous speaker into account, this is only to be expected, since ther eis not much boating in the polar seas. Anya and her team are working in the Sea of Azov, just east of the Crimean, but also look at the distribution of the giant Kamchatka crab. They actually found one of these crabs in the White Sea, near the small marine station Kartesh in Chupa Bay, where we would like to go and looka at seaweed. There is also an ongoing expedition trying to determine the extent of the snow crab, which can be seen on the ”Deadliest Catch” TV-show. The invasions of snow crab seem to coincide with ice conditions the winter before a spread-phase. Although this crab can be caugth and used for human consumtion, there are worries that it is spreading too rapidly and might knock out the native Russian species. The best way of hindering an invasion is to fish it heavily, but one where other species are not damaged, the snow crab might be kept off the Russian shores.

Nadezhda Berezina from Russia, who I have met on several conferences, then showed data from the Neva estuary and the Curonian lagoon in the Baltic Sea and how these estuarine environments are affected by nutrient loads, looking at biomass of annual macroalgae such as Cladophora, Pilayella and Ulva, and also how these ecosystems are dominated by crustaceans. At the ice breaker event when we arrived here this Sunday, Nadezhda told me that she has observed how Fucus is now establishing on the southern coast of Gulf of Finland on the Russian side. This is very interesting news, and it might be worth the hsasle of getting a visa and permission to go there to make some observations and sample, so that the speed of establishment might be assessed.

Before coffee (and very nice cakes), Sabine Horn from AWI have investigated the rôle of birds in the Wadden Sea food web, asking which areas are most important for birds, how do they impact fodd webs and can they be used as indicators. The Wadden Sea is really shallow, with vast expamnses of mudflat containing different types of mussels and clams, seagrass meadows and lots of burrowing worms, all food for different birds. This is a very special area and I would like to go there, just to experience the flatness. The highest bird concentrations are found on the sand flats and the seagrass meadows, and Sabine show how the Wadden Sea food web has both top-down and bottom-up effects.

After coffee Markus Brand showed the composition of the shallow fish community in Kongsfjorden at Spitsbergen on Svalbard. A very interesting arctic gradient was present in the fjord, with warmer water coming in and being cooled by meltwater from the glacier. They do some diving there, which I also would like to, as they only sample during summer when they can access the fjord.

Stefanie Dekeyzer from WoRMS presented their new database World Register of Introduced Marine Species (WRIMS), wich is compiled by numerous experts and makes this data very accessible.

Shasha Wang is working with Martin Wahl at Geomar in Kiel, trying to determine if the invasive forms of the red algae Gracillaria vermiculophylla have stronger defense against fouling by the red alga Ceramium spp. She has compared Gracillaria from Germany and France, where it has been introduced, to specimens from the species’ natural range in China and Japan.

We were then very interested to hear from Torjan Bodvin, a Norwegian collegue, about the speed and rate with wich the pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas, is currently travelling up along the Norwegian coastline. Their rapid colonization might well be a problem, and I for one am ready to assist our dear neighbours by coming over to Norway and eat as many oysters as I can.

Main beach on Helgoland

Main beach on Helgoland

We took our packed lunches and ate them on the pier by the beach, admiring the seaweed diversity on the breakwater structures. We then took yet another foraging walk on the beach, looking at what new species had been washed up since last tide. Today we found more red algae. I had expected several species of molluscs washed ashore, but so far there is only Gibbula sp, some Littorina obtusata and the odd fragment of Littorina littorea. Tomorrow we will walk on the other side of the island, perhaps there will be more shells there.

Studying seaweed from above...

Studying seaweed from above…

and from (during high tide) below

and from (during high tide) below

Tuesday plenary talk was by Hans Otto Pörtner, who has an immense publication list and is very inspiring. He was adressing the impacts of climate change on ocean biology. The feeling was a bit bleak, as the numbers for human impact on the oceans is not very happy reading. However, one must not give up hope on the effects of good management, hightened awareness and alternative methods in fisheries etc.

This pretty much summarizes it

This pretty much summarizes it

Day 5 EMBS – The final sprint

It’s not fun to get the presentation slot first out on the morning after the conference dinner. But Katarina from Estonia got a good attendance and gave an interesting presentation on the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) and its impact on the ecosystem of the heavily eutrophicated Pärnu Bay in southern Estonia.

Maillie Gall from Australia told A story of two sea urchins, in which she compared the population genetics of the two sea urchin species Heliocidaris erythrogramma and Heliocidaris tuberculata to see how far their larvae spreads. She has primarily examined whether the duration of the planktonic larval stage plays a role for the spreading distance. It was very nice to rest those weary eyes on some beautiful pictures of sea urchins and Australian waters.

Jennifer Loxton held one of the conference’s coolest presentations, according to me. She showed how a bryozoan (phylum Bryozoa, it’s an animal) that came into English waters recently from Japan, reproduce like crazy. With movies and beautiful microscope images, we see that most of the currently known bryozoans form one egg bump per individual, where a larva is formed which then swims away and form a new colony. The Japanese moss animal produces up to five bumps, simultaneously! Unbelievable. The animal is red in color and thrives in cold water with high salinity, so we’ll probably not see it at the Swedish coast.

Final speaker of the conference was Paul Somerfield from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, renowned marine biologist and statistician, who talked about how to use statistics and not place too much weight on that which is odd or rare if one wants to describe an overall pattern. The presentation was entitled “Putting the species back into community analysis “. Funny, easy to understand and relevant!

Yellow submarine 2013

We prepared already on Wednesday evening by writing a team-song, in order to score some extra points. Unfortunately, wedid not get any opportunity to sing, but it will probably come other times when seaweed songs will come in handy.

The theme of this year’s competition was gaelic games, which meant training in Irish football (much trickier than the old regular version) and hurley, which is a more violent version of the outdoor hockey …. sort of. You get a stick and a helmet! Fun!

In the first race, each team should balance cups of water on the Hurley stick through an obstacle course, but catastrophic cheating broke out, and developed into outright anarchy, so no points could be awarded. The Swedish-Finnish-Danish-Estonian team, however, had clearly the best technology before the sponge throwing went out of hand.

The final was a dramatic thing, Sweden loosing to Ireland with a hair, litterally. Thankfully there was not too much damage done when two heads were merged into one at high speed. Karl Norling is, as always, a rock.


The trophy was awarded later in the evening during the conference dinner under much applause. The evening continued with Irish dancing into the late hours. The BalticSeaWeed blog came home acceptably late and slept well, in order to get to the lectures tomorrow.

Day 4 EMBS Galway

Niall McDonough from European Marine Board started the day. European Marine Board is a partnership of 35 national marine / oceanographic research institutes from 20 European countries. Recently, it has also opened up for a membership of a consortium of universities. The Board is working as a platform to develop a common understanding of what is needed and what should be prioritized within marine research in Europe, and communicate this to policy makers in the EU. There are lots of interesting publications that can be download for free on their website
For those who want to learn more about the sea, they are also running a project called Ocean Literacy, wich we will look into more closely and get back to you on.

Brenda Walles from the Netherlands present us with more information about oysters, wich we like a lot, especially with garlic. She has further investigated the possibilities of using oyster beds as erosion protection (bioengineers) on exposed coasts. Today, they are used mostly as breakwaters, but they also have a greater impact on sediment bottoms around them. The most important factor for optimum protection has proven to be the length of the reef, not surprisingly, but the oysters also have more beneficial bioengineering effects that could be utilized better than we do today. And they are so very tasty…

Katrin Bohn from Southampton University has participated in a study of re-colonization of old boat docks in Liverpool that were restored in the early 1980’s. The study was begun several years ago by Professor Stephen J. Hawkins. The restoration wincluded removing large amounts of accumulated sediment in the docks and putting back the gates in order to control the water flow. The water clarity and the oxygen concentration in the dock improved significantly during the first six years, and now mussels, sponges and sea squirts have moved in.

A small seaweed excursion in Galway

On Tuesday afternoon, we decided to take a walk along the Galway coast down to a pier leading out to a small island, where the city’s garbage treatment facility is located. We had heard rumours that there would be seaweed.
We were also told to nip into the building next to the Conference, where the Galway macroalgae research group works. We were totally awestruck when we came into the entrance and saw that this is the actual physical location of AlgaeBase. After the first shock we found the elevator and went up. Three surprised researchers looked up from their lunch. “You are looking for Mike” they concluded. “Aaahh nooo …” we replied and realized that they were already about to knock on Mike Guiry’s door (big grey door). Thankfully he was not inside (what would we have said to him?) so they showed us on a map where to best access the sea shore and find algae in the area. Thank you very much, it was most helpful!
After this near-celebrity experience we plodded on down to the hotel, changed into more suitable clothes and off we went.

There is something special about the sea air. It is richer in some way. As if it is thick with salt and sea. We came down to the pier and immediately saw that there was much seaweed! And blackberries! After a small snack we climbed down on the rocks and started picking seaweed and seashells. Nowadays, the limpet Patella vulgata is classified as extinct in Sweden. It used to be transported in currents to the Swedish west coast as larva and then grow up there but it never actually propagated in Sweden. Now, the currents have changed a bit and the larvae are not replenished anymore. Those that once existed has died out, so it’s been a long time since I found some limpet shells. Here, there were several! There were also large fine yellow shell of periwinkle Littorina obtusata (or fabalis …) who also went into my pocket.

But now for the seaweed. I briskly took off my socks and shoes, rolled up my pants and waded out a few feet to pick up a stone toped with Pelvetia caniculata, which I had not seen live before. New species! We also found lots of Ascophyllum nodosum which was much bigger and broader than at home. That’s Atlantic water for you! Here, the salinity is 35 psu, on the Swedish west coast is only around 28 psu.

My first Pelvetia caniculata

My first Pelvetia caniculata

The bladderwrack was beautiful, floating in huge, blow-rich drifts. How can you choose just a few pieces, when you want to take the whole bag full? Here, the bladders are not only one pair of bladders per year , but it really does live up to its name vesiculosus with repeated bladders along the branches. Amazing!

Bladder rich bladderwrack

Bladder rich bladderwrack

But, why are my shoes almost standing in the water? I left them on the top of the …. oh oh oh tidvatnet coming in at high speed! On with the socks and shoes quickly and onto the pier again! Whew, you’re not accustomed to such fluctuations when working in the Baltic Sea. We trudged back to the hotel again to put the seaweed in the press and wash the salt from the shells before we return to the conference.

Weed trip in Galway

Weed trip in Galway

Day 2 EMBS Galway

After a very pleasant evening with barbecue, beer and talk, most of the conference participants have managed to get out of bed and into the Bailey Allen Hall at the University for the day’s first session on “Mapping habitats and determine the ecological status”. As the title indicates, most of the presentations have a more bureaucratic character.

Opening speaker is Dr. David Connor, a marine biologist with over 30 years of experience in marine monitoring and surveying (including MESH, which maps the Baltic Sea), who is now on a loan to the EU for four years to work with the EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD).

David shows many of the maps that they are now working on in order to get an overview of Europe’s seabeds. The maps have a resolution of 250x250m per pixel. Imagine that for a terrestrial map…However, it is much more difficult, and expensive, to make detailed maps underwater.
In addition to identifying the type of bottom substrate (sediment, rock, sand) they aim to include biological factors, energy exchanges and much more. The goal is that the European seabeds will be mapped down to 5000 meters depth, with relevant factors and good resolution.

Matt Frost followed with a talk about the benthic habitats and their classification in the EU’s Water Framework Directive, and whether there is such a thing as a sustainable habitat loss and if you can measure it to calculate when it is no longer sustainable. The basis for this work is the EU’s Habitats Directive. The data he shows includes more than one hundred researchers’ work over some years, published in the chapter “Habitat thresholds” in the report State of Seas from 2010.

Matt highlights the problems with getting hold of reliable data from all countries, and the difficulties in collecting good quality data at different depths and in different environments.
He concludes by saying that more research is needed before we can set quantitative targets for habitats, that we need to work out better methods for mapping, and that it is not possible to either set or verify quantitative habitat targets at present.

Dr. Xabier Guinda presents how they have managed to implement the EU’s Water Framework Directive for intertidal and shallow areas in Spain, France and Portugal, and the methods they have used to identify them. Primarily, they have used transects, which is the same as we do in Sweden.

Artem Isachenko presents how they have been able to identify mudflats with the presence of Arctica islandica (Ocean quahog) in the White Sea (where we from the BalticSeaWeed blog are eager to go for collecting some seaweed). To find relevant bottoms with the right type of sediment, they use side-scan sonar in Rugozerskaya strait, and received some very fine maps of bottom topography.

They even managed to interpret the sonar signal to determine the density of the large, very thick shelled Ocean quahog in the sediment, where it lives burrowed. Very convenient and comfortable!

They also checked the calculated numbers by taking pictures of the mudbottoms and count the number of Ocean quahog siphons sticking out of the mud (they are easy to recognize). The study shows that Ocean quahog can live in densities up to 400 individuals per square meter!

Henna Rinne, our Finnish colleague and friend, finish off the habitat mapping theme by presenting data from FINMARINET, which she has worked on for almost ten years. The Project is part of Natura 2000, where they have worked with habitats sandbanks (1110), reefs (1170) and small islands and islets (1620). The numbers are the code of the habitat within Natura 2000.

One of the biggest problems they have encountered when trying to map the coast of Finland is to get data. It exists, but is classified. If they get hold of the data, they are not allowed to publish it. Being from Sweden, we recognize the problem and sympathize. Today when every row boat has an echo sonar and a GPS with better resolution than many charts, one might feel it is no longer necessary to protect the depth data from Charlie (which certainly may find whatever data necessary for an invasion via Google Maps).

After a cup of tea and a stretch of the old legs, it’s time for one of the conference’s two female keynote speakers (a total of 9). Professor Maria Byrne did her bachelor here in Galway, but has since moved to Australia and work with echinoderms.
The presentation is about how the echinoderms entire life cycle, from egg to larva to juvenile and adult, is affected by changes in the aquatic environment. For a species to be able to survive in a changed environment, all stages of the life cycle must be able to be completed. Echinoderms builds up their body with calcium carbonate, so the major threats are ocean acidification (see yesterday’s talk) and increased water temperature.

Two species of sea urchins has clearly been affected. A cold-water species creeps slowly down towards Antarctica and have decreased along the Australian East Coast (Great Barrier Reef), while a temperate species have increased in number and extent as the water has become warmer.

Maria and her research group has investigated whether the response to the stress of increasing temperature and acidification are different, depending on whether the species is a polar water species or from temperate waters. It seems that the polar species are most sensitive to a decrease in pH, whereas species from temperate and tropical waters seem to have a greater ability to cope with acidification. Lowered pH seems to be the most important factor for the survival and growth of sea urchin larvae.

If one then adds a temperature rise of 3 degrees Celsius to different acidification stages and try it on the tropical sea urchin Tripneustes gratilla, commonly farmed as food in Asia, one sees that there is a clear synergistic effect on the growth of the larvae, and in later stages of life also in the gonads, which is what you eat. Thus, if it just gets a bit warmer, but not much more acidic, the urchins from tropical waters thrive down in South Australia in the future. The question is how it will affect the rest of the ecosystem. Sea urchins are known to graze heavily on seaweed!

In Starfish, they have instead seen that a rise in temperature inhibit growth. It seems that the sensitivity lies in the planktonic stage, so that species that have larvae with short planktonic stage, who does not need to build skeletons before they settle on the bottom, are less affected.

It’s always great fun to listen to someone who has worked for long in one area and it is a shame that time passes so quickly.

It’s….the 48th European Marine Biology Symposium!

This year’s edition of the EMBS, the 48th, will be held in the charming city of Galway on Ireland’s west coast.
During the week, you, dear BalticSeaWeed blog reader,will be able to keep up with the events, which we do our best to serve piping hot.

The programme is full of interesting presentations and posters. New for this year is the possibility to also present posters with a video on YouTube in order to really reach out with the results. We think that’s a brilliant idea, since Poster sessions are often a bit crowded and bustling, where long explanations and discussions can be difficult.
We also note that both Finnish and Estonian colleagues will contribute with interesting seaweed-talk.

Naturally, we hope to take a stroll along the beach to collect some seaweed for the herbarium. We have already found the seaweed products in stores.

The big question is which team will take home the Yellow Submarine this year. Don’t miss out on this!

Book on Irish Seaweed

There is a new book on seaweed around Ireland, written by Michael Guiry, well known authority on seaweeds with over 200 scientific publications (thats a lot, folks!), and founder of the fantastic seaweed database algaeBASE.

This book is a must-have for all seaweed people, especially since the 48th European Marine Biology Symposium is held in beautiful Galway on the west coast of Ireland this year in August.

To learn more about the marine flora of Ireland, visit The Seaweed Site, also created by Michael Guiry, where you can find a lot of information, books and other useful knowledge.

Baby Fucus and red algae on mussel shell

Baby Fucus and red algae on mussel shell