Black sea urchin with Thalassia hemprichii, a dominant seagrass of  Zanzibar Island | Photo: Daniel Arturo Saavedra Hortua, ZMT

Aquatic Resource Use and Protection

Currently great emphasis is put on using more intensively and in new ways the potential of the sea (e.g. bioeconomy, blue economy, blue growth) for the benefit of human kind. This process will unavoidably lead to many social and ecological sustainability challenges that have to be understood scientifically. The programme area “Aquatic resource use and protection” contributes to the scientific basis for a sustainable use of aquatic organisms for food and other purposes. It adds to the development of eco-friendly culturing methods and to the sustainable ecosystem-based and poverty-oriented forms of management and governance of coastal resources.

Aquatic resources are the major source for animal protein for most of the sub-/tropical coastal populations. About 200 million tons of products are taken from the aquatic ecosystems per year1. The net fish trade income for developing countries (export – import)2 valued at US$ 36 billion in 2016 and thus is larger than all other agricultural commodities combined3.

With 58 million directly and 200 million indirectly employed people in fisheries and aquaculture, the livelihoods of some 660 to 880 million people depend on fisheries. With an increasing global population, especially along tropical coasts, the demand for proteins from the sea will continue to grow.4

Fisheries and aquaculture are two of the most globalised markets and roughly half of the fish consumed in the EU stems mainly from tropical countries. This shows the importance of the issue and our involvement in it as consumers.

Ecosystem-based studies on the driving factors of fisheries production and research on new approaches for more sustainable resource use and conservation, less post-harvest losses as well as improved and more efficient integrated, ecosystem-based aquaculture systems are of central relevance here. This implies the need for a holistic research approach that focuses on the understanding and model-based prediction of the effects of capture fisheries and aquaculture activities on all levels of the socio-ecosystem, through research on the organisms, communities, ecosystems, and social systems. Ecophysiological studies on target species in the laboratory, as well as field studies on species composition of biological communities and on the food web structure, energy flows and nutrient cycling of ecosystems are central parts of this thematic field. Along this line, opportunities for novel economic use of living biota are explored as well, including the production of feed and pharmaceutical products from unicellular algae and other biota.

The research in this programme area relates to the new fields of bioeconomy and blue economy, and pursues the general aim to strengthen the scientific base for the development of sustainable solutions for the management and conservation of tropical coastal ecosystems. Sustainable solutions entail ecological, but to a huge degree social innovations, in relation to governance practices, like certification, effort reallocation of illegal fisheries, new forms of participation or in more general terms property rights. New aquatic production changes and often increases the pressure on but allows also for great benefits to the social-ecological system. This program area investigates the governance changes required and the sustainable transformation paths envisaged by the communities due to the change in use.

Among others, it includes the empirical assessment of contestation/negotiation processes for instance between small- and large-scale fisheries from different countries, or between smaller-scale community level and industrial large scale aquaculture, responding to the increasing public attention towards biological aquatic resources as valuable commodities.

Since fresh water is another natural resource of uttermost importance and increasing scarcity in tropical coastal areas, research in this field expands the concept of the Water-Food-Energy Nexus5 to the coast. Where water overuse leads to a decline in the groundwater table, salinity intrusion may occur and may, in addition to other coastal dynamics (sea level change, erosion, habitat loss) greatly alter the potential for sustainable generation of food and other bioproducts. Research needs to address questions on adaptability and alternative livelihoods as well as on equity in food and income distribution of coastal populations.

Please note: Accounting for ZMT's interdisciplinary approach to research, two ZMT workgroup leaders are acting as speakers for individual programme areas together with heads of departments as co-speakers. These can be found under contacts.


1 See http://www.fao.org/fishery/en (Feb. 15, 2019).

2 including: cephalopods, molluscs, alage, etc.

3 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

4 EU: Food from the Oceans (2017): https://ec.europa.eu/research/sam/pdf/sam_food-from-oceans_report.pdf (Feb. 15, 2019).

5 On the concept, see http://www.unwater.org/water-facts/water-food-and-energy/  (Feb. 15, 2019).