Ocean & Human Health | Flanders Marine Institute

Flanders Marine Institute

Platform for marine research

Ocean & Human Health

Life on our planet is inextricably linked with the ocean. The ocean regulates our climate, provides in food and drinking water and contributes to clean air. Being exposed to the ocean potentially promotes our health and wellbeing.

The ocean is also under human induced pressures, e.g. caused by industrial activities, chemical and plastic pollution and interventions to mitigate climate change effects. To date, as stated in the position paper on Linking Oceans and Human Health of the European Marine Board, the analysis of the direct and indirect stressors on the health of marine ecosystems on the one hand, and the impact of the ocean on human health and wellbeing on the other, are often assessed separately.

VLIZ wants to analyze, quantify and predict the relations between humans and the marine environment in an interdisciplinary manner for the protection and promotion of the sustainable use of the ocean and benefits for human wellbeing and health. This results in research on the quantification and ecological assessment of marine macro- and microplastics as well as research on the psychological and physiological effects of coastal landscapes on human health and wellbeing, including the roles of sensory perception and human behaviour.

People working on this topic

  • Gert Everaert
    Dr Everaert was trained as a bio-engineer at Ghent University where he obtained his PhD in 2015 in the field of ecotoxicology, ecological modelling, and marine ecology.  At VLIZ, he leads the research unit on ‘Ocean and Human Health’. In this interdisciplinary field of research, they aim to improve our understanding of the public health benefits (or drawbacks) from marine and coastal ecosystems and evaluate the applicability and elucidate the reasons behind the Blue Gym hypothesis. The team consists of 2 post-doctoral researchers, 3 PhD students, and project-based co-workers. The team collaborates with biologists, engineers, sociologists, economists, psychologists, and medical doctors at national and international level. In addition, plastic-related research is high on the research agenda, aiming to assess its presence, effects, and risks in and for marine life. Part of Dr Everaerts time is dedicated to the function of data science manager where his task is to initiate, lead, and perform data-driven research activities. Please find his track record at https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4305-0617
  • Ana I. Catarino

    Dr Catarino and has a strong interest on the impact of anthropogenic activities on aquatic organisms, with a special focus on nano-microplastics (N-MPs) effects and global change. Dr Catarino is interested in identifying and quantifying plastic particles in different compartments of marine ecosystems (seawater, sediments, biota), to be able to inform on exposure and risks. Her current research also focuses on the assessment of the ecotoxicological effects of microplastics in marine organisms. Previously, Dr Catarino worked at the Heriot-Watt University (Edinburgh, UK) on the NERC research project RealRiskNano and as a Marie-Curie Fellow (MARMICROTOX), on quantification of MPs in marine organisms and assessment of the bioavailability of MPs associated co-contaminants using molecular biomarkers. She got her PhD from the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Brussels, Belgium) and worked on global warming and ocean acidification effects in echinoderms. She has worked in collaboration with the Instituto Antártico Chileno and Universidad de Magallanes, and worked as a science communications consultant at Sustainability Consult (Brussels, Belgium). She has a strong interest in science outreach and public engagement and has collaborated with the HWU Athena SWAN, Our Dynamic Earth (science museum, Edinburgh), and the European Commission. Since 2014, Dr Catarino has been an active member of Native Scientist, a volunteer-based network of international scientists created to tackle educational disadvantage through science outreach. She tweets @Zebrazuli and is a member of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC).

  • Alexander Hooyberg
    Alexander began to work at the Flanders Marine Institute as a science officer shortly after he earned his master in Biology. His first research concerned finding relations between the ocean and the human health in Belgium, by analysing data from the Belgian Health Interview Survey. This study revealed that living near the coast is associated with better health, but the underlying pathways remained unclear. Therefore, Alexander passionately wrote and started a 4-year PhD project on the psychological and physiological restoration (i.e. stress-reducing) potential of the different coastal environments in Belgium. In this research, he integrates new technologies (e.g. eye tracking, VR) into a series of experiments to measure several stress biomarkers, complemented with a large-scale survey on coastal and inland residents. Alexander also endeavours to bridge disciplines (e.g. with clinicians, psychologists, economists) to perform excellent and innovative research.
  • Zhiyue Niu
    Zhiyue Niu, coming from China, has a MSc degree in environmental sciences specialized in aquatic ecology and water quality management. His general research interest is about microplastic in the environment. He has done both his MSc thesis and MSc internship within this topic. Currently, he is part of the microplastic research team as a junior researcher at VLIZ for the Interreg 2 Seas Mers Zeeën project “SeaBioComp”. In the three years, he’ll be working on the degradability of bio-based composites and their ecotoxicity to marine organisms. To the end, the results will help to answer if biobased composites is a potential solution for marine litter.
  • Viviana Otero
    Post-doctoral researcher on quantification of plankton dynamics. Multidisciplinary background in engineering and ecology. PhD in Biology, focused on Remote Sensing and mangrove forests. Additional experience in modelling coastal ecosystems using differential equations. Currently working on the Blue Cloud project particularly, on plankton data analysis using different data sources (e.g. LifeWatch, Copernicus, EMODnet). Additionally, developing a simulation model based on differential equations to quantify plankton dynamics in a changing climate.
  • Steven Pint
    Steven Pint (°1993) is an ecologist by training, who graduated in 2018 at VUB (MSc Biology - Ecology & Biodiversity). MSc thesis topic was an individual-based model on the foraging of wading birds. He’s experienced in R scripting and ecosystem modelling (IBM, food web model). Previous topics are air-sea carbon flux in the Belgian Continental Shelf and estimating primary production using fast repetition rate fluorometry (FRRF) data. Currently working on the EMBENS project, building an ecosystem-based model of long-term data from the Belgian part of the North Sea.
  • Marine Severin
    Marine joined VLIZ after having earned her Master’s in Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology from the Universite Catholique de Louvain. Her main research interest is human well-being and particularly, innovative sources of well-being such as music, mindfulness, and now, the coast. The research project Blue Psychology represents the integration of the discipline of psychology into the Oceans and Human Health field. Rather than looking at the risks present in the interaction between oceans and humans, we will instead investigate how coastal environments benefit our psychological wellbeing. It has become increasingly clear that coastal environments positively impact our general health but underlying mechanisms remain unknown. We will argue that coastal environments give rise to the emotions of awe and nostalgia, which in turn help reduce stress from everyday life. Both emotions can be considered “ambivalent”, a mix of positive and negative affect, and potentially present a way to cope with stress, through meaning-making processes. The project’s methodology will include qualitative, experimental, and interventional designs, and each study will go through a pre-registration process.