Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Royal Netherlands
Institute for Sea Research
Phone number
+31 (0)222 36 9502
Guest researcher
  • microbial ecology
  • plastic marine debris
  • microscopy
  • instrumentation
  • education and outreach


Erik Zettler explains plastics research during Greenpeace Plastic Monster ship tour on Rhine

Erik Zettler

Guest researcher

Erik checking plastic marine debris during summer 2017 ExpeditionMed cruise aboard sailing research vessel Ainez.


Erik is a microbial ecologist who was a member of the scientific community in Woods Hole, USA from 1985 till 2017 when he joined NIOZ. From 1985-1994 he was a member of the Biology Department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where he worked primarily on open ocean picoplankton using flow cytometry. From 1994-2016 he taught and did research at SEA Education Association, as Science Coordinator, Professor, and Associate Dean. It was during research cruises with undergraduate students on the SEA sailing research vessels that he first became interested in plastic marine debris, and particularly the role of microbial biofilms on the fate of plastic in aquatic systems. Erik has participated on over 60 research cruises collecting oceanographic data including plastic marine debris in the Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean, and Mediterranean. His research for the last 20 years has been facilitated by students and citizen scientists, and whenever possible, he escapes from his computer to work and teach in the field. Most recently he has taught summer courses in oceanography at Shoals Marine Laboratory in Maine, USA, and island ecology at University of the Azores, on the island of São Miguel.

B.S., Biology, Allegheny College, Meadville, PA (USA)
M.Sc., Biology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada
Ph.D., Microbial Ecology, Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain

Erik and wife/collaborator Linda Amaral-Zettler checking a colonization experiment aboard sailing research vessel Sorcerer-II in Woods Hole.

Recent publications

2017  De Tender, C., C. Schlundt, L. I. Devriese, T. J. Mincer, E. R. Zettler, and L. A. Amaral­ Zettler. A review of microscopy and comparative molecular based methods to characterize “Plastisphere” communities. Anal. Methods. 9: 2132 - 2143, DOI: 10.1039/C7AY00260B

2017    Zettler, E. R., H. Takada, B. Monteleone, N. Mallos, M. Eriksen and L. A. Amaral-Zettler. Incorporating citizen science to study plastics in the environment. Anal. Methods, 9:1392 – 1403, DOI: 10.1039/C6AY02716D

2016    Amaral-Zettler, L. A., Dragone, N., Schell, J., Murphy, L.G., Slikas, B., Morrall, C. E., Zettler, E. R. Comparative mitochondrial and chloroplast genomics of a genetically distinct form of Sargassum contributing to recent "Golden Tides" in the Western Atlantic. Ecology and Evolution, 7: 516–525. doi: 10.1002/ece3.2630.

2015    Deary, A.L., S. Moret-Ferguson, M. Engels, E. Zettler, G. Jaroslow, and G.Sancho. Influence of Central Pacific oceanographic conditions on the potential vertical habitat of four tropical tuna species. Pacific Science 69(4): 461–475, doi:10.2984/69.4.3

2014    Engels, M., L. Correia, S. Piwinski, L. Cheng, and E. Zettler. Seasonal and decadal changes in distribution patterns of Halobates (Hemiptera: Gerridae) populations in the eastern tropical Pacific. Marine Biology.: DOI: 10.1007/s00227-014-2414-x

2013    Zettler, E.R., T.J. Mincer, and L.A. Amaral-Zettler. Life in the “Plastisphere”: Microbial communities on plastic marine debris. Env.Sci.&Tech.: DOI: 10.1021/es401288x

Linked blogs

Tuesday 13 August 2019
NIOZ@SEA | RV Pelagia Sargassum Cruise PE-455
The holopelagic species of Sargassum (i.e. S. natans and S. fluitans), which are normally associated with the Sargasso Sea, have begun forming unprecedented accumulations and subsequent strandings on the western coast of Africa, northern Brazil, and…
Thursday 24 January 2019
NIOZ@SEA | South Atlantic Subtropical Gyre Plastics Cruise
Microplastics (MP) are an emerging threat to the global environment. The Southern Ocean around Antarctica is considered an exception because it is thought to be less impacted by anthropogenic activities due to currents acting as effective barriers…
Monday 06 August 2018
Blog NIOZ@Sea | Microplastics Transit Cruise
RV Pelagia cruise 64PE442 takes advantage of a transit leg from Praia de Vitória, Terceira Island in the Azores to Catania on the Island of Sicily to collect samples of plastic marine debris, phytoplankton, and other particles and to compare…

NIOZ publications