Tropical coasts are subject to pronounced transformations in their morphological structure, ecological frameworks and societal dynamics. Drivers such as climate change, overexploitation of resources, population increase and urbanisation will alter the social-ecological and socio-economic structures deeply and pose challenges to future generations with regard to a sustainable management of coastal ecosystem services. Changes in legal frameworks such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) but also the consequences of decolonisation over the past decades continue to challenge coastal countries in the tropics.

ZMT addresses these areas of tension in its work to provide a scientific basis for the protection and sustainable use of tropical coastal ecosystems by conducting research, capacity development, and consulting activities in close cooperation with international partners in the tropics. This is reflected in the architecture of our projects, with their basis laid down in the “Bremen Criteria” formulated in the early years of the institute.

The challenges caused by the various drivers require a holistic view that encompasses the social-ecological systems in their complexity. Inter- and transdisciplinary approaches for the development of responses at different levels – locally, nationally, regionally, and globally – have proven to be pertinent. ZMT strives for this integrated view in its scientific programme, by equipping its disciplinarily diverse scientific team with necessary expertise, and by assuring framework conditions conducive for inter- and transdisciplinary research in and with tropical partner countries.

ZMT addresses urgent key topics in the five scientific programme areas:


Programme Area 1: Coastal Resources and Sustainable Blue Economy
Programme Area 2: Global Change Impacts and Adaptation
Programme Area 3: Land-Ocean Fluxes and Transformation
Programme Area 4: Ecosystem Co-Design towards a Sustainable Anthropocene
Programme Area 5: Ocean Literacy, Equity and Leadership