(Photos by: Upper row left to right Achim Meyer, Peter J Mumby, Sonia Bejarano, lower row left to right: Pia Lewin, Hannah von Hammerstein, Sonia Bejarano)

Coral reefs occupy <1% of the seafloor yet harbour a quarter of marine biodiversity in the world. They contribute the protein upon which hundreds of nations depend, underpin enormous sources of economic income and employment, and shelter 150,000 km of tropical coastlines from erosion.

Planetary‐scale climate change and a wealth of anthropogenic pressures have altered coral reefs worldwide, and are projected to worsen. Our research group focuses on understanding how reefs function in the Anthropocene viewing humans as major engineers of environmental change, threat mitigation, preservation, and restoration.


New @ Reef Systems
We are very happy to announce that the 1st of April of 2021 is the official starting date of our new BiodivERsA-Funded project EASMO Eastern Tropical Pacific Reef fish on the move: biodiversity reorganisation and societal consequences. More on EASMO here and also here :). Also, if you are interested in conducting a Master's thesis project within EASMO, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
4 Galapagos P Tomkins SB

 Photo: Kyphosus ocyurus in the Galapagos Archipelago (Paul Tompkins, ZMT)


Who we are and what we are working on




Our research locations

Map website modified


Our latest publication

Grutter et al

Grutter et al (2020) Effects of the cleaner fish Labroides dimidiatus on grazing fishes and coral reef benthos



Research highlights



(1) Vincent Ripke setting up experiments on the effects of artificial feed on coral reef fishes on Green Island (Taiwan), (2) Preparation of a Pocillopora damicornis colony for measurements of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), and (3) P. damicornis exposed to PET microplastics at the MAREE. (Photos: 1. Vincent Ripke, 2. Sara Ousley, 3. Anna Feuring) 

We investigate corals’ responses to a range of pervasive ocean pollutants including microplastics, herbicides, and sunscreen filters. We ask whether a) corals react differently to microplastics of different shapes, b) microplastics disrupt key ecological functions of corals, and c) polyps undergo high levels of stress when inspecting or ingesting microplastics. Work in this theme is carried out at the Green Island Marine Research Station, at our Marine Experimental Facility (MAREE), and is developing in further novel directions in collaboration with the Microsensor Group in the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology. In the field, we have also aimed at understanding how coral reefs living in atypically turbid and polluted conditions function. In this context, we joined the research efforts of Pontificia Universidad Javeriana de Cali and Fundacion Ecomares in Varadero reef which may paradoxically be one of the best coral reefs n the continental shelf of Colombia despite being exposed to heavy industrial and sewage waste.


Research highlights



 (1) Mattia Ghilardi conducting fieldwork in Palau in November 2019 to quantify carbonate excretion rates of coral reef fishes, (2) fishes were held in aquaria at the Palau International Coral Reef Centre, (3) Mattia Ghilardi and Sonia Bejarano preparing for fish collections in Palauan reefs (Photos: 1. Pia Lewin, 2. Mattia Ghilardi, 3. Steffanie Brohl).  

The faeces of 138 fish of 52 species were collected and these will be analysed to quantify their carbonate content. Ultimately, the amount of carbon produced per individual fish and per species will be calculated. Carbonate excretion rates will be compiled together with data on four more ecosystem functions sustained by fishes globally within the frame of the REEF FUTURES project. The global contributions of coral reef fishes to the carbon cycle in future tropical oceans will be predicted under realistic climate change scenarions.


Research highlights



 (1) Image taken by a drone over Ngederrak reef in Palau, (2) Our great boat driver Nelson catching the drone after a flight, (3) Pia Lewin preparing for fish censuses (Photos: 1. Pia Lewin, 2. Sonia Bejarano, 3. Mattia Ghilardi).

We are interested in reconstructing the three-dimensional structure of shallow coral reefs using consumer grade-drones and photogrametry to investigate whether this relates to various ecological patterns.