In a world with an ever-increasing population, and a changing climate to complicate things, people and nature seem to collide increasingly often. ‘And that is often unnecessary’, says NIOZ researcher and (amongst other things) Professor of Biogeomorphological Ecology of Estuaries, Deltas and Coasts at Utrecht University, Tjeerd Bouma. ‘Once we understand how nature allows ecosystems to function, we will be able to make sustainable use of that, for example in the case of coastal defences.’
‘In the past, many attempts were made to restore ecosystems that disappeared, but these were unsuccessful. That was because we failed to first investigate how a healthy version of that ecosystem works. For example, along the coast, we can try to produce a salt marsh, marsh or mangrove by spraying up sand and planting the right plants, but then we fail to see the importance of certain aspects, such as the role of soil stability, for the resilience of those systems.’
'However, once we understand how an ecosystem works in detail, then that knowledge will allow for significant improvements. For example, in the North Sea, we could restore ecosystems around wind parks so that sustainable forms of aquaculture or fishing become possible. At various places along the coast, we could deploy the forces of nature to defend the land against a rising sea level. In the Netherlands, this could, for example, include alternating polders along muddy coasts or a Sand Motor off the South Holland coast.
A Caribbean example is the restoration of seagrass beds that naturally retain sand and protect the coast against erosion. Even in the most densely populated delta in the world, the Pearl River delta around Hong Kong, where about 60 million people live, we are investigating how mangroves can be restored to improve safety. In many cases, we are learning that nature provides smarter and often cheaper alternatives than strictly technical solutions.’Read more +
Understanding coastal ecosystems for sustainable conservation & use.
During the last 10 years, I focussed my research on bio-physical interactions between the forces originating from tidal currents and waves, and species that alter these forces and thereby the environment (i.e., ecosystem engineers). Biophysical interactions by ecosystem engineers (e.g. vegetation like salt marshes, mangroves, seagrass, aquatic water plants, reef forming animals, bioturbating animals) can have major consequences for the functioning and development of the estuarine and coastal landscape. I’m interested in obtaining a better understanding of ecosystem engineering as a strategy (fundamental ecology), the thresholds ecosystem engineers encounter in establishing (overcoming bottle necks in ecosystem restoration), the influence ecosystem engineers have on ecosystem functioning by altering resource fluxes, biodiversity, ecosystem resilience and landscape evolution (management implications) and especially the opportunities this offer for benefiting from ecosystem services (e.g. nature based coastal defence, food provisioning, maintaining biodiversity, recreation, etc.).
- Coastal vegetation, mangroves, salt marshes, seagrass meadows
- Benthic ecosystem engineers, mussels, oysters, endo-benthos
- Bio-engineering sea walls
Working on coastlines across the globe has taught me this: the future safety and prosperity of millions of people depends on sustainable, nature-based coastal defense systems and healthy, resilient coastal ecosystems. To make this happen, we need to fundamentally understand how coastal ecosystems work and thrive. We need answers to questions like: What safety, food, energy, recreational and ecological services can they provide for society? How stable and reliable are these services under global changes like climate change, sea-level rise and growing populations? And how can we establish, maintain and restore those valuable ecosystems where we need them?
To come up with solutions that will affect so many lives, we need frontier-applied research that yields answers now. And training gifted young people that will provide answers in the future. But this is not enough: we also need to reach out to seek support of the public, companies, NGO’s and governments to steps up in solving today the problems of tomorrow.
Tjeerd J. Bouma studied biology at Utrecht University (NL), did a PhD in the field of Plant Physiology at the Wageningen University NL (i.e., quantifying maintenance costs in agricultural crops), followed by a post-doc in the field of Plant Ecology at Pennsylvania State University USA (i.e., quantifying drought stress on energy use and root longevity in fruit trees). Since then he has worked at the NIOZ-Yerseke (former NIOO-CEME) on the ecology of tidal wetlands in estuaries and delta’s. Tjeerd Bouma has a strong interest in crossing the border between fundamental and applied research, and holds both an honorary Professorship at the University of Groningen, and a Lectureship at the HZ University of Applied Sciences in Vlissingen.
Researcher ID: A-9841-2011