The North Sea is one of the world’s most intensively utilised seas, and in the past centuries it has undergone significant changes as a result of anthropogenic influences. The various uses have particularly affected the sea’s ecosystems: native species and biotic communities that were once widespread in the North Sea, providing important ecological functions for the system, have been decimated or have disappeared completely. The aim now is to halt this trend – through measures to ecologically restore marine habitats. Ideally, it will even be possible to reverse species declines through the restoration of species-rich habitats that will allow the biodiversity in the North Sea to rebound.
Just how this can be achieved is a major research focus pursued at the Alfred Wegener Institute. We are developing and testing marine conservation measures that will, above all, be implemented in protected areas in the North Sea, within the German Exclusive Economic Zone. We are currently focusing on restoring endangered species like the European flat oyster and the thornback ray, and on methods for restoring keystone habitats (e.g. reefs). As an ecosystem engineer and a biogenic reeftype, the European flat oyster and its restoration are a specific focus, as its beds provide a habitat and food for particularly species-rich plant and animal communities.
Using active knowledge transfer and technology transfer, we communicate our findings directly to the authorities and stakeholders that implement the measures, helping to ensure that they are applied immediately. Our overall goal is to design ecologically effective marine protection measures that can be implemented long term and on a large scale to sustainably improve the status of the North Sea. By doing so we aim to help Germany achieve its marine management and conservation goals (e.g. in the frame of the EU-Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the EU Flora Fauna Habitat Directive) as soon as possible.