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International Exchange on Environmental Problems in Chinese Coastal Waters

Environmental problems caused by human activity are a challenge afflicting many nations across the globe. Approximately forty scientists from both Germany and China will discuss the current coastal water conditions of both countries beginning August 30th. Within the framework of the Sino-German Workshop 2016, general issues concerning new pollutants as well as a special focus on oil and air pollution will be under discussion during the three-day meeting. The researchers will also introduce new developments in the field of observational and modelling technology and concepts for analysing the environmental conditions. The Institute of Coastal Research at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht (HZG) and the Yantai Institute of Coastal Zone Research (YIC) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences are organising the workshop.

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Algal blooms off the coast of China. (Photo: Xuanzheng YUAN, Qianguo XING)

A workshop focus lies in confronting the development of stressors in China and Europe. Environmental problems such as algal blooms, which have, for example, been occurring in Germany over recent decades could be partially resolved or improved through appropriate measures. Similar challenges have now been increasingly observed in China – in some areas at a clearly higher rate and inflicting extreme stress. The goal is to transfer already successful approaches to other regions and to use these promising solutions locally.

Importance of Coastal Regions

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Algal blooms in China’s Yellow Sea. (Foto: Xuanzheng YUAN, Qianguo XING)

Currently nearly half the world's population lives near the coasts. Economic development is rapid, for example, in China: industrial production, ports and the population are growing quickly. This particularly applies to megacities such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, which lie at the mouth of the Yangtze River and the Pearl River. These urban Chinese centres on the coast alone are home to as many people as the entire population of Germany. “Discussions concerning utilisation along with protection of these regions are accordingly vital and the international exchange is of considerable importance,” says Prof Kay-Christian Emeis, Director at the HZG’s Institute of Coastal Research and organiser of the workshop.

The focus lies on introduction of pollutants and nutrients into the coastal and marine ecosystems. In addition to air pollution, these present a particularly pressing problem for Chinese environmental policy in large cities.

Eleven Participating Research Establishments

In addition to the YIC, other Chinese researchers are visiting Hamburg from Qingdao University, the National Marine Environmental Monitoring Center in Dalian, the Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute and Xiamen University. In addition to the HZG’s Institute of Coastal Research, the German representatives are from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde (IOW), the German Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH), the Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute for Rural Areas, Forestry and Fisheries as well as the Centre for Earth System Research and Sustainability (CEN) at the University of Hamburg.

Further information

Interview with Zhiyong Xie, Scientist at Institute for Coastal Research, Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht.

  • HZG Amongst others, the workshop “Biogeochemical Pressures and their Effects on Marine Ecosystems in China and Europe” aims to promote cooperation between scientists from Europe/Germany and China. Why is a cooperation so important especially in the field of marine science?
  • Zhiyong Xie Marine and coastal environment have been playing a more and more important role in the development of human society and economy. To thoroughly understand the marine environment, rationally exploit marine resources, effectively protect the marine environment and achieve sustainable development of the marine environment and its resources have become important tasks for coastal States, such as China and Germany. Marine science and technology is essential for enhancing our knowledge of the natural processes, and may provide scientific basis for decision-making on sustainable development, help to improve integrated coastal management.
  • HZG Which kind of knowledge do China and Germany exchange?
  • Zhiyong Xie Apart from the traditional forms of cooperation such as personnel exchange and training courses, joint research programs may be established to study issues of common interests. For example, in Europe the human impact is receding, and many traditional man-made substances of concern are regulated, while China is a country with massive and rapidly evolving industrial and agricultural activities in large river catchments that supply nutrients, pollutants, and other problematic substances to coastal environments. The Chinese scientists can learn from German and European colleagues how to transfer their knowledge and successful case for the North Sea and Baltic Sea to develop sustainable coastal and marine environment in China. Simultaneously, the German scientists may develop further strategy and technology to tackle emerging problem occurring in the marine environment caused by developing countries with close collaboration with Chinese scientists.
  • HZG What are the main differences between the research landscape in China and Europe/Germany and what are the greatest challenges for marine science in both countries?
  • Zhiyong Xie Science and research in Germany are characterized by an excellent infrastructure, a wide variety of disciplines, well-equipped research facilities and competent staff. Germany offers various forms of research locations: universities, non-university institutes, companies and institutions run by federal or state (“Länder”) authorities. While, China has a highly centralized research system organized and controlled by the central government. In 2014, R&D expenditure of China totalled 190 billion euro, which accounted for 20% of world investment, and was almost equal to those of EU.
    The greatest challenges for marine science in both China and Germany are facing the sustainability of the coastal, marine and ocean ecosystems. It requires research programs dealing with deep ocean ecosystem dynamics, air-sea and land-sea interactions, and integrated marine and ocean observing systems and scientific experiments.
  • HZG Has science changed in China in the last couple of years or decades? And if yes, in which way?
  • Zhiyong Xie Yes, science has been changed dramatically in china for last decades. Chinese government has realized that the importance of scientific research in driving innovation and technology progress in 2006. Both medium- and long-term research plans have been setting out to transfer the country into a “Science Powerhouse” by 2020. China has made great efforts to expand its high education systems, and attracted human resources from the global. For example, the “China Scholarship Council” (CSC) responses to support Chinese students to study abroad and foreign young researches planning study in China. Outstanding oversea Chinese and foreign scientists can be granted to carry out their research program based on a platform in China. So far, HZG has successfully hosted more than 30 PhD students sponsored by CSC since 2010. Prof. Hans von Storch and Prof. Ralf Ebinghaus have been appointed to guest professor in Ocean University of China in 2013 and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2014, respectively. Moreover, international collaboration has increased significantly, with it collaboration score rising 31% from 2012 to 2014 according to Nature Index 2015.
  • HZG What are the main or most important environmental problems in the coastal zones of Europe/Germany and China?
  • Zhiyong Xie Either in China or Europe/Germany, intensively social and economic development mostly rely on the coastal and marine environment, thus result in very frequent activities of developing and utilizing marine resources and pose great pressure on the coastal zones. The most important environmental problems in the coastal zones mainly refer to eutrophication, organic contaminants and metal pollution caused by industry and megacities, decrease of biodiversity, reduction of marine habitat and frequent natural and ecological disasters. All this impacts can be intensified by the changing climate.
  • HZG What can research do to help to better protect marine ecosystems and the human health?
  • Zhiyong Xie Despite significant improvements, major differences in environmental quality and human health remain between China and European countries. It is a great task to protect marine ecosystems and human health, which cannot be carried out without the support of science and technology. Research in marine science and technology is essential for enhancing our knowledge of the natural processes of the marine ecosystem and their impact on human health. Outcome from research program may provide scientific basis for decision-making on sustainable development, help to improve integrated coastal management, improve the utilization of marine resources, and provide effective means for a better protection of the marine ecosystems and human health.
  • HZG Is there an impact of pollution on the food chain? Are human beings directly effected of marine pollution? Which are the most important / dangerous pollutants?
  • Zhiyong Xie Pollution can be discharged into the coastal and marine environment via riverine off and atmospheric deposition, which consist of neutron, organic contaminants, and metals. Eutrophication may increase biomass of phytoplankton resulting in algal blooms. Harmful algal blooms may produce toxins thus impact other organisms and alter food web dynamics. Moreover, Eutrophication may cause dissolved oxygen depletion resulting in incidences of dead of fish and benthic species. Consequently, pollutions entering the coastal and marine environment can directly affect human beings by interfering with the utilization of marine resources, decrease of the biodiversity and fish, and produce toxins which is dangerous to humans. Among the numerus marine pollutions, the persistent organic pollutants have been objective of most important and dangerous pollutions determined by their characters of persistent in the environment, bioaccumulation ability, toxicity and long-range transport potential.
  • HZG Which role plays microplastic in research and for the health of the marine environment?
  • Zhiyong Xie Marine plastic debris and microplastic was one of a number of issues highlighted by the UNEA as being of particular concern. It is estimated that each year 8 million tons of plastic enter into the ocean. Microplastic has the ability to attract contaminants, such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and can potentially transport these chemicals to remote ocean and, when ingested by wildlife, microplastic could cause the transfer of chemicals into the organism’s system. The extent of bioavailability of POPs dissolved in the microplastics to the biota and their potential bio-magnification in the food web has not been well studied. Therefore, it becomes a significant issue to study the impact of microplastic on the biodiversity and to discover their potential toxicities to fish, seabirds and marine mammals.
  • HZG Which role play ships regarding marine pollution?
  • Zhiyong Xie Ships can release pollutions to the marine environment in many ways, e.g. oil spills, ballast water, fuel burning and waste combustion, which act as a significant source of organic contaminants, greenhouse gases, black carbon and microplalstics for the coastal and marine environment.
  • HZG What can China learn from Europe/Germany and what can Europe/Germany learn from China regarding marine research and the protection of the marine environment?
  • Zhiyong Xie Bilateral cooperation is an important channel for promoting the progress of marine science and technology for the protection of the marine environment. At present, China need develop capacities for marine scientific research; marine environment observation and monitoring; and marine environmental protection. Capacity building in China can be improved by establishing bilateral research program with marine scientists from Germany. For Germany, investigating Chinse marginal seas is of interest in conducting comparative studies on oceanography and biogeochemical processes. Bilateral research program for coastal marine and ocean research in China opens up new research fields for German research institutions and universities as well. Alternatively, the Joint Declaration on German-Chinese Research Activities in Marine Research (2013-2020) signed between BMBF and Chinese State Oceanic Administration (SOA) provides a framework for structuring proposed measures for Chinese-German bilateral research program in marine science and technology.


Prof. Kay-Christian Emeis
Prof. Kay-Christian Emeis

Head of the division Biogeochemistry in Coastal Seas

Phone: +49 (0)4152 87-1502

E-mail contact

Oliver Weiner
Oliver Weiner

Press and Public Relations

Phone: +49 (0)4152 87-2369

E-mail contact