During the first decade since the founding of ZMT mangrove research (as part of the cooperative MADAM in North-western Brazil was one of the main research pillars of the institute. The so-called BENEFIT project, meanwhile, saw ZMT scientists study the ecology of the Benguela Upwelling System and its fishery resources in Namibia and South Africa. Studying coral reefs with four countries of the Middle East became another research focus after Germany’s Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), assigned the coordination of the RED-Sea programme to ZMT. Over the course of the following years ZMT developed long-term projects in countries that had signed agreements with German for science and technology cooperation – amongst them projects with Indonesia (SPICE), China (LANCET) and the region of southern Africa. (GENUS). Today, ZMT's research regions cover almost the whole tropical belt.
Since its inception, ZMT has supported the establishment of infrastructures with partners in tropical countries. The former field station in Bragança (Brazil), initiated during the MADAM programme, was the nucleus for a nowadays well-established research institute run by the Federal University of Pará (UFPA, Campus Bragança). The field station at the International Tropical Marine and Earth Science Laboratory (ITMEL, Indonesia) was jointly developed and operated with local partner Universitas Jenderal Soedirman during the SPICE project. Both are prime examples of the strategy of support and hand-over.
Regional foci of research and capacity development projects are in:
- Indonesia, Singapore, (e.g. 4-D-REEF, ACUTE, DiSeMiNation)
- China, Vietnam (e.g.TICAS, Aqua-Weed, SeaGrapes)
- Africa (sub-Sahara) (e.g. SEAMAC, COMPLEX, CRABS)
- Alantic (z.B. AANChOR, TRIATLAS, TRAFFIC)
- Soth America (e.g. DiSeMiNation, CASCAdES, TransTourism)
- Pacific (e.g. SOCPacific, REFF FUTURES)