Professor Venugopalan Ittekkot, Professor Hildegard Westphal, Professor Gotthilf Hempel

In the quarter century of its existence, the ZMT has rapidly developed into an internationally recognised partner in tropical research and has expanded its regional research areas. In close cooperation with local partners, ZMT researchers are particularly active where coastal ecosystems are changing and their fragile balance is threatened.

Today the research areas of the ZMT encompass the entire tropics. There ZMT scientists also support the development of expertise and structures that enable sustainable coastal zone management. Many of its more than 200 employees and students come from – predominantly tropical – foreign countries.

The partnerships of the ZMT comprise a worldwide research network of high technical competence, which makes the institute ideally suited to address the major issues of the 21st century – sustainability, environmental protection, ecosystem services, and coastal protection.

From the start until today

At the beginning of 1991, the "Center for Tropical Marine Ecology" was established as an affiliated institute of the University of Bremen by Professor Gotthilf Hempel, the founder of the Alfred Wegner Institute. Thus, with the tropical coasts – following Antarctica, the Arctic, and the South Atlantic – an entirely new region of the world came into the focus of the Bremen marine sciences. The main basis for the establishment of the new institute was the MADAM project (Mangrove Dynamics and Management), a ten-year project grant of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for bilateral cooperation with Brazil. In the mid-1990s, research on coral reefs gained more and more importance for the ZMT, which coordinated the Red Sea Programme on Marine Sciences (RSP) from 1995 onwards.

Early on, the ZMT defined the principles of scientific ethics according to which it developed its projects. These "Bremen Criteria" provided for long-term studies with intensive participation of scientists from the host country and an unrestricted exchange of data and information. These guidelines were also adopted by the German Research Foundation.

In order to support environmental research and an independent environmental policy in the partner countries, the ZMT expanded the training of young German scientists in the field of tropical coastal research and closely linked it with the training of scientists from outside of Europe. The aim was to attract future partners for international cooperation and to ensure the continuity of research activities.

The founding director Professor Gotthilf Hempel was succeeded at the turn of the millennium by the biogeochemist Professor Venugopalan Ittekkot, who headed the institute for ten years. He expanded the institute’s contacts, especially to the Asian-Pacific region. Under his tenure, the ZMT assumed the overall coordination of extensive research programs with Indonesia (SPICE - Science for the Protection of Indonesian Coastal Marine Ecosystems) and China (LANCET – Land-Sea Interactions in Coastal Ecosystems of Tropical China).

In 2009 the institute was accepted as a member of the Leibniz Association in recognition of the broad geographical scope and the scientific and political significance of its research. In addition, the ZMT – now called the Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology – was able to expand its staff and strengthen its research capacity.

In November 2010 the geologist Professor Hildegard Westphal became Director of the ZMT. A year later she was elected Scientific Vice President of the Leibniz Association, a position she continues to hold today. At the ZMT, Professor Westphal forged ahead with the expansion of the staff and the thematic range of research. The number of people employed at the ZMT has tripled since she took office.

Through the further development of the social sciences and the geosciences, she intensified interdisciplinary research at the ZMT. Topics in tropical ecology of global importance as well as complex regional problems can now be comprehensively elucidated – ranging from basic research to practical solution strategies. Under her leadership the ZMT has strengthened its regional cooperation with Africa, for example within the framework of the SUTAS graduate school (Sustainable Use of Tropical Aquatic Systems) with Tanzania.

Furthermore, through the establishment of the Office for Knowledge Exchange, the ZMT has strengthened its dialogue with scientific and non-scientific partners in Germany and the tropics.

After a successful evaluation in 2013, the Senate of the Leibniz Association recommended that the federal government and the states (Länder) continue to fund the ZMT. Last year Professor Westphal was re-elected for a third term of office as Vice President of the Leibniz Association.

The years 2016/2017 were characterised not only by the 25th anniversary of the ZMT, but also by the name change of the institute, which is now called the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research. The ZMT thus takes into account its increasing interdisciplinary scope, which encompasses both natural and social sciences.

At the beginning of this year the ZMT expanded its first management level. Since January 2017 the Board of Directors of the ZMT is comprised of Dr. Nicolas Dittert as Administrative Director together with Professor Westphal as Scientific Director.

In the quarter century of its existence, the ZMT has rapidly developed into an internationally recognised partner in tropical research and has expanded its regional research areas. In close cooperation with local partners, ZMT researchers are particularly active where coastal ecosystems are changing and their fragile balance is threatened.

Today the research areas of the ZMT encompass the entire tropics. There ZMT scientists also support the development of expertise and structures that enable sustainable coastal zone management. Many of its more than 200 employees and students come from – predominantly tropical – foreign countries.

The partnerships of the ZMT comprise a worldwide research network of high technical competence, which makes the institute ideally suited to address the major issues of the 21st century – sustainability, environmental protection, ecosystem services, and coastal protection.