Arthur Mol on sustainably managing increasingly crowded seas

Published on
February 21, 2023

Wageningen University’s Dies Natalis on 9 March is themed ‘shaping sustainable marine futures’. Or how to manage the sea sustainably. Why did WUR choose this topic, and what does it mean? Rector Arthur Mol explains.

Why is this topic important to WUR?

‘The sea always seemed endless. But in the delta regions, we see a gradual shift towards more activities at sea. Where there was already the fisheries industry, there is now also mining for resources such as oil, gas and sand. And there are new wind parks, an increasing number of container vessels, the development of tidal energy, tourism and aquaculture, more and more cables and pipes, and, last but not least: nature reserves at sea. Saying that there is a competition for space at sea is justified. The question Wageningen aims to answer is: how can we plan this increasing use of the seas sustainably?

‘The interesting thing about this is that the conflicting interests at sea do not yet have a detailed governance. Who is responsible for a certain area at sea is often unclear. There are territorial waters, but large parts of the sea belong to no one. It does not take much imagination to predict that space claims and conflicts at sea will increase in the coming years, because the interests are high. How can these claims at sea be combined and how can this be done within ecological limits? There are many sustainability aspects to consider.’

How is WUR working on this theme?

‘Some 200 employees work on these issues at Wageningen Marine Research, while within the other research institutes work is being done on, for example, seaweed production and processing, saline agriculture, and pollution of seas and oceans. At the university, the Social Sciences Group works on marine governance and economic analysis, while the Animal Sciences Group works on marine ecology, fisheries, aquaculture and fish genetics. The Environmental Sciences Group studies plastic soup and develops models of water pollution, while the Plant Sciences Group works on saline crops. We really have a lot to offer, worldwide. It is good that we are putting our diverse marine research in the spotlight.'

Is this also what the new Marine Sciences bachelor track in Wageningen focuses on?

‘We are launching a new programme in September—the first university bachelor's programm in marine science in the Netherlands. Groningen has the Marine Biology specialisation, and Delft has the Marine Technology programme. So, we will not focus on designing wind parks or dykes at sea. Our programme will include coastal management, fisheries and aquaculture, spatial planning, ecology and nature conservation. A combination of socioeconomic sciences, ecology and life sciences.’

Prof.dr. A.P.J. (Arthur) Mol, Rector Magnificus of Wageningen University and Vicevoorzitter Raad van Bestuur Wageningen University & Research
Prof.dr. A.P.J. (Arthur) Mol, Rector Magnificus of Wageningen University and Vicevoorzitter Raad van Bestuur Wageningen University & Research

‘The Bachelor will be English spoken. There is currently a debate in the Netherlands about education in English, but the choice of English is an easy one in this case. The sea is international, after all. The employers who will potentially recruit our Marine Sciences graduates, consultancy agencies and dredging companies, for example, all operate internationally. Hence, students must develop a sensitivity to the international context. Moreover, this bachelor’s forms, among other things, the basis for the English-spoken master’s in Aquaculture and Marine Resource Management. The open days showed that there is considerable interest.’

] In addition, the dies natalis is linked to the founding of the Delta Climate Center in Zeeland, says Mol. ‘WUR is to collaborate with Utrecht University, Zeeland University of Applied Sciences and other parties in the the field of delta research and education. We consider the Zeeland delta a living lab with various challenges in the domain of climate, fresh and salt water and food production - think salinisation, for example. These activities in the delta are also related to the sea and coastal management.’

How will keynote speaker Beatrice Crona contribute to the theme of the dies natalis?

‘Crona is the scientific director of the Resilience Center in Stockholm and an excellent scientist. She focuses on food from the sea, global market chains for fish and seafood, sustainability agreements on this food, the role of small-scale fishers within these chains, nature conservation at sea and how to achieve and finance sustainable chains at a global level. Thus, her domain includes many overarching issues and sea-related sectors. She weighs the conflicts at sea and formulates an agenda describing how we can address these issues systematically and comprehensively. The great thing about Crona is that she is a natural scientist who has also made her mark in socio-economic research. In doing so, she links many disciplines. I expect an agenda-setting analysis on the challenges at sea and what knowledge and transitions we need for a sustainable future.'