Catch a wave: Maritime summer school brings the world to Ostend
Ghent University is working to boost marine and maritime research around the globe with its two-week Blue Growth summer school for international researchers, while also spotlighting the work of local companies
A sea of knowledge
This marks the second consecutive year that UGent has organised the Blue Growth summer school at its GreenBridge campus in Ostend, where it concentrates its marine and maritime research activities. The name Blue Growth refers to the application and commercialisation of new technologies and innovation in fisheries, marine science and engineering.
Ghent’s summer school is the only programme in Europe that provides instruction on such a wide array of underwater topics. “We can offer such a broad scope because UGent has a wealth of expertise in these areas,” says Noémie Wouters, UGent Blue Growth liaison officer at the GreenBridge science park.
During the first week, students were immersed in various maritime subjects like coastal engineering, shipping and the use of offshore wind parks, waves and tides to generate energy. During the marine-focused second week, the students learned more about marine litter, blue biotech and spatial planning.
“But we link the two modules by showing the impact of offshore wind turbines on life in the ocean and by illustrating how engineers increasingly integrate their constructions into the natural environment,” explains Jeroen De Maeyer, co-ordinator of the summer school’s maritime module. “We also emphasise the social relevance of research, for example in dealing with rising water levels.”
The big difference with last year’s programme is a bigger emphasis on entrepreneurship at the request of Flemish dredging company Deme, one of the summer school’s sponsors. Deme staff gave several lectures and organised a closing networking event.
“We see major potential in blue growth, including the trend of combining different functions in engineering constructions,” says Frank Verschraegen, a project director at Deme. “Projects that, for example, protect our coasts but also generate energy are more efficient and have broader societal support.”
During the summer school, Deme presented its Coastbusters project, which aims to construct reefs from seaweed, worms and mussels in the North Sea. This will help prevent heavy storms from sweeping away tons of sand from the Flemish coast.
We also emphasise the social relevance of research
The students also attended talks by other local companies, from big enterprises like electricity network operator Elia to smaller ones like the Ostend-based Laminaria, which is working on technology to harness energy from waves. The summer school’s 20 participants also visited two local aquaculture companies, Imaqua and TomAlgae.
The participants learned how research consortium projects funded by the European Commission are run in a workshop on the Met-Certified project. It aims to increase the adoption of insurable and therefore bankable marine energy projects through the development of internationally recognised standards and certification schemes in the sector.
Blue Growth also included multiple interactive activities. To better understand the challenges of marine spatial planning, for instance, the students took part in a debate in which they had to defend the interests of conflicting parties. For example, one student would represent an environmental organisation, while another represented an industry player.
Students had to submit a report, evaluated at the end of the programme, in which they applied the theory discussed during lectures to solve a practical problem. At the end of the two weeks, the students received a certificate that will earn them study credits in their home universities.
The students’ busy schedule also included more adventurous outings, such as travelling from Blankenberge to Zeebrugge by rubber boat to get a closer look at coastal infrastructure like breakwaters.
Blue Growth organisers hope that the 24 participants, who hailed from countries around the world, including Mexico, Iran, Turkey, Russia and Spain, will use the insights gained to improve maritime and marine research in their own countries. In addition, experts from the European Commission also attended the summer school.
We are keeping the cost as low as possible to keep the summer school accessible
Summer school participant Afshan Khaleghi, in any case, was impressed by a speaker who explained how salinity in water can be used as an energy source. “We have large salt lakes in Iran, but we are not using them for energy production,” says Khaleghi, an Iranian coastal engineering expert. “With relatively simple methods, we can tap into this potential.”
For next year’s edition, Blue Growth organisers hope to attract more students from developing countries by offering them grants. “But we are already keeping the costs as low as possible in order to make the summer school accessible,” emphasises GreenBridge’s CEO, Marianne Martens. Fees for the one-week programme are €300, while the full two-week programme costs €500.
Apart from Deme, the summer school is also supported by Flanders Knowledge Area, the agency for mobility and co-operation in higher education, and the City of Ostend. It has applied for funding from Vlir-UOS to be able to offer students financial aid next year.
The government is also developing GreenBridge’s status as the place to be for blue growth research through the construction of the Flanders Maritime Laboratory. This research centre will include a wave tank, a coastal and ocean basin and a ship simulator and will be open to companies and government agencies as well as researchers.
Construction of the laboratory started earlier this year, and it is slated to open in the summer of 2019.
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