Marine Research and Innovation in Belgium: a growing landscape | Compendium Coast and Sea

Marine Research and Innovation in Belgium: a growing landscape

Increasing importance of marine research and innovation

The focus on marine research and innovation is greater than ever before. The seas and ocean play a crucial role in addressing societal challenges, such as food and energy supply and climate change. Both at international, European and Flemish level, initiatives are emerging that accelerate the development of marine research and innovation and integrate it into policy strategies. Examples include the United Nations Decade of Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) and the European Mission Restore our Ocean and Waters.

This increasing focus on marine research is reflected in a steady increase in multidisciplinary marine research capacity in Belgium and Flanders. Today, our marine research landscape counts no less than 135 research groups and more than 1900 staff members. The growth is especially noticeable in the Natural Sciences, and in the Engineering and Technological Sciences. This trend is occurring both at the Flemish and French speaking university associations and colleges, and at the Flemish and federal scientific institutions. Not only do we observe a continuous growth in research capacity at the major marine research groups. Existing, initially non-marine oriented, research groups are also starting marine research lines, either temporarily or not.

Along with the growth of marine sciences in Flanders and Belgium, the number of publications is also increasing. Our marine researchers have their sights firmly set abroad, both in terms of study area and cooperation. Belgian marine research also enjoys a solid international reputation, with an above average global impact and high degree of accessibility. This increase in quantity and impact of Flemish/Belgian marine research is supported by broad and sustained investments in state-of-the art research infrastructure. Examples of this are two modern marine research vessels, RV Belgica (federal) and RV Simon Stevin (Flemish).

Rising funding for marine research and innovation

Increasing political attention to the role of the ocean in major societal issues has led to a significant increase in financial support for marine research and innovation. Something which is eminently manifested in the Horizon Europe programme. The increase in marine R&I funds is mainly in the area of applied research and innovation. It is worth mentioning however, that funding for fundamental marine research through funding channels like FWO, BOF, BELSPO remains a significant component of marine research funding in Flanders/Belgium. At the federal level, we see an important step up in funding with the creation of the Energy Transition Fund (2016), which is, among other things, an important funding instrument for offshore energy research. At the Flemish level, the Blue Cluster (2018) - the blue Flemish spearhead cluster - acts as an important catalyst for marine research and innovation in Flanders.

Positive spillovers to the Blue Economy

Flanders is strongly committed to a knowledge-driven economy. In recent years, there has been a clear trend towards more cooperation between companies and knowledge institutions. This cooperation results in promising practical examples in the Belgian part of the North Sea, such as a commercial mariculture project and a pilot project with floating solar panels. This increased cooperation also manifests itself in the field of training and education. Thus, there appears to be some alignment between marine education and the needs of industry.

All these developments show that marine research and innovation are playing an increasingly prominent role in Belgium and Flanders, with sustainable, knowledge-driven opportunities for people, the environment and the economy.

  • Would you like to further explore the Flemish/Belgian marine research and innovation landscape? Then download the new Indicator Report Marine Research and Innovation 2023 (available in English and Dutch)!
  • Curious about who, what, where in the field of Belgian marine research? Then you will find what you are looking for in the Expert Guide Marine Research 2023! Download here.

  • Do you prefer to see the most striking figures and trends at a glance? Check out our infographic!

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