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The Belgian Federal North Sea Research Programme

History

The interest of Belgian researchers in marine science dates back a long way.
As early as 1842, Pierre Joseph Van Beneden, a Professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, set up a rudimentary laboratory in Ostend to study marine biology. It is recognised as the first in the field in Belgium.

At the University of Liège, Professor Edouard Van Beneden pioneered research in marine science. He also established a laboratory in Ostend in 1883.

At the University of Brussels, Paul Pelseneer was one of the first to offer a regular course in marine biology; he was also an internationally renowned authority on molluscs.

Between 1898 and 1913, Gustave Gilson, successor of Pierre Joseph Van Beneden, undertook a number of sampling campaigns in the southern North Sea: his collection of more than 14,000 samples is currently being assessed and catalogued for its potential use by modern researchers. In 1914, Gilson also introduced the idea of a national oceanographic research vessel.
On his initiative the "First International Conference on the Ocean" was held in Ostend in 1926. A year later the "Zeewetenschappelijk Instituut" (ZWI - Institute for Marine Science) was founded. Over a period of more than 30 years, the Institute’s main focus was the science and statistics of fisheries. From the early 60's on, its task was taken over by the Public Station for Sea Fisheries of the Ministry of Agriculture known as the Sea Fisheries Department (DVZ). This department is now part of the Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO).

In the same period, Ghent University and the Royal Institute for Natural Science began research related to the ocean.

At that time, the research was mainly descriptive, and cooperation between research teams and interdisciplinary work were rare.

At the end of 1970 the Belgian Government, under the influence of the European Economic Community, took the initiative of starting a national "Environment/Water" research programme, of which “Project Sea" was a part of. This was the first phase of the North Sea Research Programme.

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