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

Current project(s)


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

Dr. Erik Zettler


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.

Linked news

Monday 12 June 2023
'Perfect storm'; Sargassum blooms and marine plastic bring potentially unhealthy bacteria to the beach
A huge mass of seaweed filled with plastic and bacteria could have unhealthy effects on the coasts of Florida and the Caribbean. This is what research in Linda Amaral-Zettler's group recently published alongside colleagues in the United States. Some…
Monday 28 November 2022
NWO grant for research project to understand Sargassum inundations in the Caribbean
Climate change or Natural Range Expansion? As of 2011, the Caribbean Sea regularly suffers from washed-up masses of seaweed, called Sargassum, that rot if left to accumulate on beaches and in harbors. As part of an international call, a Dutch-led…
Tuesday 08 February 2022
‘Missing’ plastics uncovered deep in the ocean
About 51 trillion microplastics are floating in the surface waters of oceans around the world. Many more particles are missing as they were not to be found at the surface or at the bottom of the ocean. New research has found that some of these…

Linked blogs

Monday 17 June 2024
NIOZ@Sea: The Weeds of Change expedition
The brown macroalgal genus Sargassum, the namesake of the Sargasso Sea, is an essential habitat and refuge for many organisms including endemic species. Historically, this so-called 'golden rainforest of the Atlantic Ocean' was constrained to the…
Tuesday 28 November 2023
NIOZ@SEA | Cruise PE-527 Nanoplastic in the North Atlantic
Ocean plastic debris has been recognised as a severe environmental problem in the ocean but we are only beginning to understand the role of particles
Wednesday 11 November 2020
NIOZ@SEA | Cruise 64PE480: In search of Atlantic Nanoplastic
The overall goal of the cruise is to determine the total amount of plastic (macro, micro and nano) along a transect from the Azores through the N-Atlantic subtropical gyre and then towards the European shelf, English Channel and S-North Sea. The…
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