Stretch of coast, Ghana

DTU will investigate marine pollution in West Africa

Thursday 15 Mar 18


Torkel Gissel Nielsen
DTU Aqua
+45 35 88 34 94


Marja Koski
Associate Professor
DTU Aqua
+45 35 88 34 07
Researchers from DTU Aqua are coordinating a new project investigating what pollution means for the marine life in the Gulf of Guinea.

What does the pollution from maritime sources mean for the marine life and livelihood of coastal communities around the Gulf of Guinea? And what is the effect when oil and pollution from shipping mix in a warm cocktail with heavy metals from mining and other land-borne pollution sources? These will be investigated in a new DTU-led research project starting in Ghana this week.

The project is called HOTSPOT, and is financed by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. HOTSPOT will generate knowledge to support research-based management of the marine and coastal resources and environment in Ghana.

One plus one is not always two

The Gulf of Guinea is exposed to multiple stressors, such as discharges from ship traffic, chemicals and heavy metals from mining and oil exploration, and wastes from land. Previous research has shown how these factors individually influence the marine life. However, it is far less known how marine organisms react when these factors act together as multiple stressors. HOTSPOT will investigate these problems by conducting small and large-scale laboratory experiments, combined with modelling.

"Investigating the cocktail effect is important. The concentration of, for example, heavy metals, that has an effect on the survival and reproduction of plankton can be 100 times less in combination with two of more metals than when plankton is exposed to one substance at a time" says Associate Professor Marja Koski, DTU Aqua, who will be responsible for this part of the project.

Experience from similar studies in Greenland

The reason for working with plankton, such as copepods, is that they react quickly to environmental factors, and that the impacts are easily measurable. And if there are problems in the bottom of the food chain, it also affects fish and other animals. Project Manager, Professor Torkel Gissel Nielsen, DTU Aqua, has extensive experience from Greenland, where he has studied the effects of climate change in combination with different toxins.

"The exciting thing now is to bring that knowledge to tropical systems. The water temperature in Ghana is about 30 degrees, compared to 2 degrees in Greenland or 15 degrees in Denmark. So the processes in the water are much faster, and the effects may be far more serious. We do not know yet, but that's what we want to look at" he says.

The first step is to determine the types, concentrations and sources of stressors

When the scientists go to work, their first task will be to get more knowledge of the different types of stressors and their main sources. This will require expertise of several of the partners. Together with DTU Aqua, the HOTSPOT group consists of DTU Environment, University of Cape Coast (UCC), Danish environmental consulting companies COWI and LITEHAUZ and the Ghanaian company Zeal Evironmental Technologies Limited. The project will run for 3 years and is financed by the Danish Foreign Ministry. 

Capacity-building and exchange of students

The 3-year project includes courses and short research stays both in Denmark and Ghana, and there will be possibilities for student exchange.  Also, master students from Aquatic Science and Technology will have possibilities to participate in the work in West Africa.