Coastal research: At the centre of the action

Vice Director Prof. Dr Karen Wiltshire, Head of AWI Helgoland und AWI Sylt and professor at the University of Kiel.

Coastal research

Coastal ecology

Shelf Sea System Ecology

Prof Karen Wiltshire is the Vice Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), and Director of the AWI sites on Helgoland and Sylt.

As a coastal and climate researcher, she is engaged at the centre of the action. Coastal waters and its tidal interfaces are the cradle of life in the ocean: microalgae and seagrasses not only find ample nutrients to form underwater meadows and forests. In the intertidal, young herring, oysters & co. also hatch and grow, lending the coastal waters far greater biodiversity than the open sea. At the same time, no other ocean region is as intensively used. In many places, coastal protection structures, ports, towns and cities, not to mention tourism, protect, encroach and interact with mudflats, seagrass meadows, salt marshes, mangroves and dunes. The effects of climate change can also be felt especially strongly here – e.g. in the continual warming of the shelf seas, heat waves, and oxygen-deficient zones.

Karen Wiltshire studiesthe North Sea and the Arctic shelf seas to determine how climate change and increased use by humans are affecting the structure and functions of the various coastal ecosystems, and the extent to which the organisms living there can adapt to change. As such, one of the greatest challenges of our time is to find new and sustainable ways of using the oceans.

It is Karen Wiltshire’s expert opinion that this requires three major components: 1) the coordinated management of all human activities in coastal waters, 2) the development of new marine ‘ecostructures’ and ecologically friendly, sustainable infrastructures, and 3) the establishment of new scientific observation systems to monitor the status of coastal ecosystems and assess the effects of human interventions.

Initially, this requires the development of suitable plans and concepts  and agreed upon in extensive cross-sectoral talks involving representatives from politics, business and civil society. Karen Wiltshire is active on several committees in this area, has launched the Marine Protected Areas and Multi-Use Strategy Group in the Konsortium of German Marine Science and is a driving force for a fundamental transformation in European ocean and coastal use.