Press release

Premiere in mudflats: first scholarship holders celebrate their graduation from the Centre of Excellence in Observational Oceanography at the Alfred Wegener Institute

[24. September 2014] 

List/Sylt, 24 September 2014. For the first time ten young marine scientists will celebrate their graduation from the Centre of Excellence in Observational Oceanography, a scholarship programme of the Japanese Nippon Foundation and the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO). The scholarship holders from Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean were guests at AWI’s island locations on Helgoland and Sylt for ten months to continue their education in various fields of the marine sciences. Three of them will subsequently do their doctorate in Europe. The other seven will go back home to apply and pass on their newly acquired knowledge. The festive graduation ceremony will take place at the Forces of Nature Centre in List on Sylt tomorrow.

Bangladesh, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago are three of the ten emerging nations from which the scholarship holders come and which have one thing in particular in common: their inhabitants are dependent on the ocean – as a workplace, as the basis of their livelihood and as a food supplier. Researching how life off the coast of their home countries is changing is thus interesting for the junior scientists not only from a scientific point of view: their results may be of great social relevance in the future.

Joeline Ezekiel from Tanzania, for example, wants to pass on her newly acquired knowledge directly to her students. “Primarily I would like to help master’s students and doctoral candidates who – just like me – are interested in conducting research on the ocean with the help of remote sensing. However, I also plan to get pupils interested in marine research and write an ocean column for one of our national newspapers,” she says.

The objective of the Nippon Foundation and POGO is to support young marine researchers like Joeline Ezekiel. “We want to provide local, home-grown, but globally-trained, experts in countries that lack the capacity to monitor, observe, study, and understand their oceans, marine environments, and resources,” explains Dr. Gerald Plumley, coordinator of the international scholarship programme.

The Centre of Excellence in Observational Oceanography (CofE) was established by the Nippon Foundation and POGO in 2008. In the past ten months, however, the educational programme took place for the first time at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). The Nippon Foundation chose AWI because of its scientific expertise and logistics infrastructure.

To provide a broad continuing education programme, AWI enabled the scholarship holders to conduct research at the institute’s two island locations, on Helgoland and Sylt. Supported by AWI scientists and external experts, the junior researchers became familiar with the basic principles of remote sensing and sampling there, among other things, but the curriculum also included how to write good project applications and evaluate results statistically. “It was important to us to show the scholarship holders methods and enable them to set up small research projects they can implement in their home countries. They were to learn how to work meticulously and effectively without a big budget,” states Prof. Dr. Karen Wiltshire, Deputy Director of AWI and Head of the Biological Station Helgoland and the Wadden Sea Station Sylt.

Apart from theory, therefore, the core of the programme consisted of independent research projects that were geared to the interests and needs of the scholarship holders. Wilfried Essowe Panassa from the University of Lomé in Togo, for instance, modelled the way in which storm surges impact sediments in the southern North Sea, i.e. what happens when storm surges carry away sediments from the seafloor and deposit them elsewhere. For the junior researcher this is an opportunity to work together with scientists from different fields and learn from them. “The programme opened up new prospects for my future research and I have the good fortune of being able to conduct research as a doctoral candidate at the Alfred Wegener Institute for another three years,” says the physicist.

Wilfried Essowe Panassa is one of three scholarship holders who will stay in Europe for a doctoral position for the time being. However, the seven other participants will return to their home. “It was a fantastic group that worked hard and it’s difficult to say goodbye to the scholarship holders. But we also know that they will now continue their commitment in their own countries,” says Dr. Gerald Plumley.

The Nippon Foundation and POGO support the former scholarship holders even after their graduation from the Centre of Excellence via the global NANO network. This alumni programme offers its currently 180 members from 44 countries opportunities for training and exchange and a platform for extending their network. And while the present scholarship holders pack their suitcases, the new ones are ready and waiting already. After all, the next ten start their training at the Alfred Wegener Institute on 20 October.


Quotes from the participants:


Widya Ratmaya from Indonesia

„I have gained a lot of experience from the CofE training. I have met and have been taught by great researchers from the AWI. I have met great students from around the world. I learned a lot about the ocean and marine sciences. And the most important thing for me was that I had the opportunity to create a network with these researchers. Also, I had the opportunity to develop an independent research project, which corresponded to my research interests, which are in marine biogeochemistry. All these things were very useful for my future study and career. After this program, I will go to France to continue my study at PhD level at the French institute for marine sciences, IFREMER.”


Shaazia Mohamed from Trinidad and Tobago

„The CofE experience has made me aware of the need to combine all aspects of oceanography (physical, chemical and biological) when investigating any impacts in the marine environment. It highlighted the importance of networking, to include the opinions and knowledge of experts in all areas of oceanography. This holistic approach strengthens research of any study area, proving open-minded thinking and communication as invaluable tools for a scientist. My expectations for this program were surpassed. I encourage any student passionate for research in a marine environment to apply for this program and expand their knowledge. My short-term goals are to utilize the skills I have gained and to continue my research in oceanography at PhD level – if possible in Europe. My long-term goal would be to return to my home country and to create awareness of research possibilities in oceanography and how it may be applied for the Caribbean. Ultimately I would like to encourage the government of Trinidad & Tobago and The University of the West Indies to provide an undergraduate degree in oceanography.“


Lobsang Tsering originally from Tibet, but grew up in India

„I have always believed that in order to understand the marine environment one should look from different perspectives, not only from the one that our interest lies in. The CofE program has strengthened this believe and shown me importance of other branches of Oceanography.  Being a marine biologist I concentrated mostly in understanding marine animals, but now I give equal importance to other parameters, which could influence the animal’s behaviour. The best part of this program was that we were asked to „think outside of the box" and to "connect the dots". It wasn't easy in the beginning, as we had very limited knowledge about other subjects, but with the time we learnt a lot more than we had expected to. When I go back to India, I would like to study on tropical shallow water corals close to the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The Andaman Islands are a very remote area and we know very little about the corals reef ecology of the Island, most of the literature dates back to the 1960's. So there is a need for an updated biodiversity study." 


Wilfried Essowe Panassa from Togo

“I have learned a lot and increased my practical experience through different monitoring programs on ocean observations. The interaction and help from the experienced researchers determined the success of this program. The CofE program also opened up new perspectives for my future research life. Fortunately, I was awarded a PhD position at the Alfred Wegener Institute, where I will study the physical and biological feedbacks in the Southern Ocean carbon cycle and their effects on the global carbon cycle. This is my new challenge for the next 3 years.  And I just want to say thanks to all members of this program for their contribution in the capacity building of us young researchers from developing and developed countries.”


Subrata Sarker from Bangladesh

“The CofE program was an excellent opportunity for me to understand the basics of ocean science. It was a great pleasure to meet the international participants and the experienced teachers. I will now start my PhD and work on the modelling of environmental variables and biodiversity for the Helgoland Roads Time Series. Once I finish my PhD my intention is to go back to my home country and to get involved at a university as a lecturer.”



Information about the program partners


The Nippon Foundation (NF) was established in 1962 as a non-profit philanthropic organization, active in Japan and around the world. Initially its efforts focused largely on the maritime and shipping fields, but since then the range of activities has expanded to education, social welfare, public health, and other fields—carried out in more than 100 countries to date. Together with more than 20 partner organisations in Japan and worldwide it is funding and assisting community-led efforts aimed at realising a more peaceful and prosperous global society.


The Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO) is an international network of collaborators that fosters partnerships to advance efficiency and effectiveness in studying and monitoring the world’s oceans on a global scale. POGO is a partnership of institutions involved in oceanographic observations, scientific research, operational services, education and training. POGO also includes representatives of existing international and regional programs and organisations.



Notes for Editors:

Your contact person at the NF-POGO Centre of Excellence in Observational Oceanography is Dr. Gerald Plumley (Phone: (0049)4725/819-3144, email:  Your contact person in the Dept. of Communications and Media Relations is Kristina Bär (Phone: (0049)471/4831-2008; e-mail:



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