Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Assessing the macrozoobenthos of the Dutch Wadden Sea​

Benthic macrofauna are an integral component of the Wadden Sea ecosystem. Defined as organisms greater than 1 mm in size, they are a food source for many animal species, especially migratory shorebirds. In addition, they are pivotal in keeping the ecosystem functioning, as they recycle nutrients, decompose organic matter and regulate nutrient cycles. Thus substantial changes to the macrofauna community could induce changes that cascade through the ecosystem.

The Dutch Wadden Sea is acknowledged for its ecological importance, but also for its natural resources like fisheries, gas and salt. In the last decades, gas production has taken place under the Wadden Sea. To assess whether there are changes in the ecosystem due to land subsidence as a result of gas extraction, SIBES (Synoptic Intertidal Benthic Survey) has been completed across the entire intertidal Dutch Wadden Sea annually since 2008. The survey covers an area of 2483 km2 or ~5000 sampling stations on the tidal flats which are visited by boat or on foot. During fieldwork, samples are taken to assess the macrofauna on or in the upper sediment layer of the tidal flats. The findings offer valuable clues on the availability of benthic species as food resource for birds and fish.

Links to clips explaining the project:
SIBES fieldwork in the Wadden Sea (in English)
SIBES - De Basis voor Onderzoek en Beleid 2013 (in Dutch)


Within the SIBES project we offer opportunities in both fieldwork and lab work for hard-working students. The possible topics of student projects will strongly depend on the timing of the research.


For more information and to apply, please contact Loran Kleine Schaars (