Matthias Wolff being interviewed by media in Peru at the final workshop of the SASCA project | Photo: Lotta Kluger, ZMT

One of ZMT’s first members of staff officially retired at the end of March 2021 after working for almost 30 years as a scientist at the institute. Professor Matthias Wolff was honoured in a digital get-together of ZMT staff which included some long-term colleagues, a former boss and alumni from the master course International Studies of Tropical Marine Ecology. Despite his retirement Matthias Wolff will remain at ZMT as a scientist and continue with his ongoing research projects such as Humboldt Tipping (Peru), Ghostnet Fishery (Ecuador), FIDEA (East Africa) and MIMAC (Colombia)

Matthias Wolff started as one of two researchers at the Center of Tropical Marine Ecology as ZMT was called back in 1991. His colleague Dr Werner Ekau, ZMT Acting Scientific Director, reminisced about their first days, which were characterised by “a lot of freedom to discuss and look for interesting research topics to investigate and to find a niche for the young institute”.

First research topics were established with mangroves as one of the key systems on tropical costs, Werner Ekau recalled. “We have proven how right we were in that decision. Today we know how important mangroves are”, he said in his thank-you address.

The two scientists also launched a series of seminars on tropical ecology and fisheries at the University of Bremen starting in the summer semester of 1992. To provide an international platform of knowledge exchange and to make ZMT more visible to the global scientific community, so-called specialised courses were developed on different hot topics of tropical marine research, for which lecturers and young scientists from all continents were invited to ZMT or to partner institutions in the tropics.

In 1999, out of those courses, a whole interdisciplinary English-language master’s programme, tailored to tropical coastal zone and resource management, was created by Matthias Wolff jointly with colleagues of ZMT and Bremen University. It was called International Studies in Aquatic Tropical Ecology (ISATEC and for more than 20 years Matthias Wolff was responsible for this programme until it recently (2021) became a specific study profile in a newly conceptualised M.Sc. programme Marine Biology at the University of Bremen.

ZMT founder Professor Gotthilf Hempel also wished Matthias Wolff all the best for his retirement. He has known Matthias Wolff for 53 years having supervised his diploma and PhD and appointed him to ZMT two months after Werner Ekau.

Gotthilf Hempel said about Wolff: “The pacific coasts of Latin America and the population dynamics and trophic relationships of its macro-benthos remained his primary field of research. Ecopath was his key modelling tool. The combination of field work and modelling became the trademark of his team, linking marine biology and socio-economics.”

He also noted Wolff’s achievements in education and training: “Over three decades he graduated more than 25 Ph.D. and 50 M.Sc. students, most of them from tropical countries. ISATEC alumni are spread all over the world. Several of them in high academic or administrative positions. They share warm memories of their time at ZMT in Bremen and they praise Matthias Wolff as the father and godfather of ISATEC,” Professor Hempel said

Matthias Wolff’s first diploma student Dr. Volker Koch also shared some fond memories of their work together over the years mainly in Central and South America. As a special surprise, ISATEC alumni and former students sent in video messages from across the globe as far away as New Zealand and Galapágos, in which they thanked Matthias Wolff for inspiring their research interests and careers in science.

Matthias Wolff was visibly moved by the digital farewell events and thanked everyone involved for their good wishes, stressing that despite his retirement he would always remain a part of ZMT.

About Matthias Wolff

Matthias Wolff was born in 1955 in Potsdam in East Germany, the former GDR. His parents were school teachers and left the country in the year 1961, five days before the Wall was constructed. He grew up in Kiel and after his ‘Abitur’ he studied Biology with a major in fisheries with Professor Gotthilf Hempel at Kiel University, where he also received his doctorate in 1985. Ten years later he habilitated at the University of Bremen on “Population dynamics, life histories and management of selected invertebrates of the Southeast Pacific upwelling System”. In the year 1997 he was appointed Professor for Marine Synecology at the University of Bremen.

The Humboldt Current upwelling system off Peru and Chile were favorite areas of study and during his PhD he went to Peru for a research stay. After completion of his PhD at Kiel University, Matthias Wolff went to Chile to work as a professor for fisheries research at the Universidad Catolica del Norte in Coquimbo, Chile. In the course of his academic career he spent more than twelve years in Central America. Highlights were three years on the Galapágos Islands (2007-2010) were he served as the chief marine scientist of the Charles Darwin Station, a dream position for any marine ecologist.

He coordinated international, and multidisciplinary research expeditions of the German RV Victor Hensen travelling to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. During his scientific career he coordinated nationally and internationally funded large research projects focussing on research in Central America, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Tanzania (Sansibar).

He also works as a reviewer for several journals of marine research (such as Marine Biology, Progress in Oceanography, Ecological Modelling, Plos One, Frontiers in marine Science) and is a permanent member of Editorial board of the Revista de Biologia Tropical and Biologia Marina. In 2014 he was rewarded a Doctor Honoris Causa by the Universidad de Piura (Peru) due to his research dedication to Peruvian waters.