Belgian marine research continues its growth | Compendium Coast and Sea

Belgian marine research continues its growth

Within the framework of the Compendium for Coast and Sea, the Flanders Marine Institue reports annually on the state of marine research in Flanders and Belgium. Using a replicable methodology, it identifies research capacity as well as scientific output and elaborates on international collaborations, the geographical focus of study areas and the use of research vessels.

At the benchmark (25 October 2022), we identified 136 marine research groups (MRGs) in Belgium associated with university associations and scientific institutions. This is a significant increase from the 82 MRGs counted at the start of the mapping exercise in 2013, and some 10% more than last year. Most research groups are affiliated to Flemish university associations (81) and French-speaking universities and university colleges (40), although the individual groups of Flemish and federal scientific institutions tend to count a larger number of scientific and technical staff. The centre of expertise of the MRGs is in the natural sciences (89) and engineering sciences (48). Furthermore, the research groups are active in no fewer than 23 research disciplines, highlighting the highly diverse expertise in the marine research landscape.

The MRGs publish between 600 and 900 marine peer-reviewed publications annually, which is comparable to the output of larger marine institutes in our neighbouring countries. Our marine scientists increasingly embrace the Open Science principle: for instance, more than 73% of all publications are included in open access journals, making them increasingly accessible.

The proportion of international co-publications is growing steadily. 75% of marine peer-reviewed and VABB publications (2008-2021) involve collaboration with at least one foreign author. These are mainly researchers from neighbouring countries (France, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK), as well as researchers from the US. Between 2008 and 2021, MRGs published with authors from 161 different countries. However, a decreasing trend can be seen in the number of publications where the first author is from Belgium (57%).

For those publications where the study area could be identified, it appears that MRGs were only about 20% regionally active (in the Southern Bight of the North Sea, adjacent estuaries and coastal zones) in the period 2008-2021. In almost 80% of the publications, the research has a more international geographical scope. Here, the Atlantic region (14%) and Pacific region (12%) are the main study areas, although there is also a strong and increasing global focus (14%).

Regarding the use of research vessels, in 2021 we see a marked increase in the deployment of the two Belgian research vessels, the Belgica (+320%) and the Simon Stevin (+323%) compared to 2020. In the period 2008-2021, 26% of marine peer-reviewed and VABB publications of MRGs mentioned a (research) vessel or had a clear indication of the use of a vessel ('seagoing research'). A total of 338 (research) vessels from 45 countries were mentioned in the 8,949 marine peer-reviewed publications (2008-2021).

If you're interested in learning more about the state of the Belgian marine research, you can consult and download the policy informing brief by clicking this link.

(c) picture - VLIZ