Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

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Dr. Tom Ysebaert passed away on 6 June 2023. NIOZ has lost a knowledgeable scientist.


Environment influences benthic organisms … and vice versa

Marine ecologist Tom Ysebaert studies the interaction between benthic organisms and their environments in deltas and estuaries, such as the Eastern Scheldt in the Netherlands or the Yangtze River in China. ‘Of course, benthic organisms are influenced by factors such as the salinity of the water and the flow rate. Conversely, those benthic organisms can also influence the flow rate of the water, for example. That can easily be measured around oyster reefs and other shellfish banks. My interest is partly fundamental in nature – how does the interaction between benthic organisms and their environment take place exactly? – but also partly applied. For example, I examine the possibilities for using newly constructed tidal areas for coastal defence and for mitigating the effects of climate change.’

Seabed transplantation in the Eastern Scheldt

‘One of the projects in which nature can help to restore lost habitat for birds is the sand nourishment around the Roggenplaat, in the Eastern Scheldt. Since the construction of the Delta Works, the Eastern Scheldt has suffered from “sand starvation”, as a result of which the seabed erodes and intertidal flats where birds find food disappeared. We are trying to compensate this sand starvation with sand nourishments, but that also has consequences for benthic organisms, which disappear beneath the sprayed sand. On the Roggenplaat, we have demonstrated that transplanting the original shellfish and other benthic organisms to the top layer of the sand nourishment can accelerate the restoration of the natural habitat on such a new area.’

Dutch-Chinese collaboration

‘Human activity influences more than just Dutch deltas and estuaries. The influence of man is clearly tangible in the estuary of the Yangtze River in China. Within the international collaborative project Coping with Deltas in Transition, NIOZ is working together with Dutch and Chinese research institutes on the sustainable management of deltas as an important habitat for people and nature.’

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Research interest

In my research I focus on benthic ecosystems in estuarine and coastal environments. I study the diversity of benthic macrofauna, and how their distribution is influenced by the environment, but also vice versa, how organisms, as ecosystem engineers, modify their environment. I try to get a fundamental understanding about the mutual interaction between benthic organisms and the physical environmental, for instance how oyster reefs affect hydrodynamics and sediment dynamics, or how stabilizing organisms and destabilizing organisms shape intertidal flats. This fundamental understanding I translate into concepts and guidelines for restoration and nature-based solutions, this is integrating coastal ecosystems into management of our estuaries, deltas and coasts. Monitoring of the effectiveness of restoration projects or nature-based solutions is one of my key interests; this includes for instance the projects in the Oosterschelde related to the sand deficit problem (nourishments of tidal flats, oyster reefs), restoration projects in the Westerschelde, the sand engine along the Dutch coast, ... Finally, I am working on benthic communities and benthic habitats as indicators for ecosystem health, as well as their importance for delivering ecosytem services to society (coastal protection, nutrient cycling, food production, etc.). 

My main focus research area is the Southwest Delta, with the Schelde estuary and the Oosterschelde as my principal research areas, but I also worked in other coastal systems worldwide, including Ems estuary (Netherlands), China (Yangtze, Yellow River), Bangladesh, Denmark (Limfjorden), Finland, Spain (Ria de Vigo), New Zealand, etc.

Education and current positions

Tom Ysebaert studied biology at the University of Antwerp (Belgium), where he also received his PhD in 2000, dealing with macrobenthic communities in the Schelde estuary. Since 2001 he is working at NIOZ - Yerseke (former NIOO-CEME), and since 2007 he is also part-time senior researcher at Wageningen Marine Research in Yerseke. Since 2013 he is also lecturer at the University of Antwerp, teaching courses on Ecological Engineering (within the master Technology for Integrated Water Management) and Estuarine and Coastal Systems (within the master Oceans & Lakes). 

Short CV

October 2013 - now

Lecturer (0.05 fte)


University of Antwerp, Department Biology

 November 2007 - now

Senior researcher (0.6 fte)


Wageningen Marine Research, Yerseke, the Netherlands

January 2001 – now

Senior researcher (1.0 fte until nov 2007, 0.4 fte afterwards)


Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research – NIOZ, Estuarine & Delta Systems Department, Yerseke, The Netherlands

1992 – December 2000

Scientist / project manager


Institute of Nature Conservation, Ministry of the Flemish Community, Brussels, Belgium

1988 - 1992

Scientific researcher


Ghent University, Laboratory of Ecology, Zoogeography & Nature Conservation, Ghent, Belgium