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

Lectures on Ecology and Diversity of the Baltic Sea

As part of a PhD-course organized by BEAM (Baltic Ecosystem Adaptive Management), there were several lectures on the theme “Ecology and Diversity of the Baltic Sea”.

If you are interested in what the benthos looks like, what role the blue mussel plays, or want to know more about the planctonic life of the Baltic Sea, you will find the lectures by klicking HERE.

There is, of course, one or two lectures containing seaweed.

Guest blog from the 15th Scientific Conference of the Section Phycology

At the end of Feburary, our German collegue Balsam Al Janabi attended the 15th Scientific Conference of the Section Phycology, organized by the German Botanical Society. We persuaded her to tell us about it as a Guest Blogger.

The 15th Phycology seminar took place in the beautiful marine museum of Stralsund from 23rd until the 26th of february 2014. Members from the Phycology Section of the German Botanical Society and other researchers presented a huge variety of phycology research. Organized by the University of Rostock, Prof. Dr. Ulf Karsten lead us through 59 oral presentations and 2 poster sessions, so that about 100 scientists had the change to know the research of almost all phycological disciplines and to establish contacts. English presentations were held from Bachelor-, Master-, PhD-students and Professors from Austria, Ireland, Greece, Netherlands, Mongolia as well as all over Germany, especially Kiel, Rostock, Cologne and Constance.

Phycological presentations
Eleven structured sessions, brought the audience through different principle topics with special secctions of Polar and high Alpine Phycology, the Bioacid project and a presentations in memorium to Prof. Dr. Dieter Mollenhauer (who passed away May 2013) and in honor to his contributions to his activities to promote phycology in Germany.

The antarctic research session included fascinating sessions showing the kelp system in the Antarctic seaweed system with regard to global change revealing biomass and biodiversity changes up to ecotypic differentiation. Stecher, winner of the best talk award, brought the audience below the ice of the Arctic and the DNA- and RNA of sea ice algal communities. Besides future research, also insights into the past were discovered by means of Paleolimnological studies: radiocarbon-dated sediment revealed informations about diatoms, pollen and geochemical proxies up to the Neolithic period. Analysis of biodiversity was another focus of the seminar, as for instance the diversity of the rain forest in equador. Physiological aspects, as the light regulation in diatoms explained the role of aureochromes and cryptochromes by gene silencing methods. Other approaches from terrestrial habitats revealed transcriptomic analysis as in Klebsormidium crenulatum with regard to the physiological performance under desiccation stress. Investigations about microphytes were often interesting in this seminar, as during the applied phycology session, showing the usage of algae for biogas production. The variety of disciplines was also shown by a presentation about the BIOMEX project illustrating not only the laboratory analysis of space conditions for cyanobacteria, algae and even mosses, but also the planned analysis in the international space station (ISS).

Seaweed research
The Bioacid session focused on the climate change scenaria from mesocosm experiments in the Kiel Benthocosms, a near-natural scenario analyzing a seewead community as including an experiment on the interaction of environmental stress and genetic diversity of Fucus vesiculosus. Also bacterial communities of the biofilm between the present and future scenario are compared. Fucus vesiculosus was also analyzed for their seasonality of defense as a response to the seasonal variation of micro- and macrofouling pressure. Furthermore, the gen expression under herbivore grazing was demonstrated for Fucus vesiculosus. Also other physiological aspects of brown macroalgae (Phaeophyceae) showed the iodine to salinity response in Laminaria digitata and mechanisms of photoacclimation of the giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera revealed the relation of antioxidants with the depth at which algae appear. The role of two bacteria for morphogenesis was presented for the green algae Ulva mutabilis.

Networking and Award Ceremonies

Future network was supported by talks about the GBIF database for algae and protists as well as by insights in the SAG culture collection. During the award ceremony of best poster, Algological study and E.G. Pringsheim-Prize, the winner of the ‘Hans-Adolf von Stosch Medal’ was Prof. Dr. Michael Melkonian for his great contributions in Protistology and Phycology. He shared his experiences of decades of phycological investigations as well as appreciated cooperations.
Personally I appreciate the participation of the phycology seminar, especially due to the mixture and the connection not only of disciplines, but also of specialists and opportunities as a PhD student having the chance to discuss my methods and results with during a nice coffee brake.
//Balsam Al Janabi

Have you attended any seaweed events or do you work with seaweed and would like to tell us about it?
Feel free to contact us and become a Guest Blogger at

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!

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.