The Flanders Marine Institute (1999 – present) | Flanders Marine Institute

Flanders Marine Institute

Platform for marine research

The Flanders Marine Institute (1999 – present)

The idea of establishing the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) was announced for the first time on the occasion of the farewell speech of the then governor of West Flanders Olivier Vanneste on 6 May 1997. This institute was intended to create a clearly identifiable point of contact in Flanders in order to increase the visibility of marine scientific research among the regional as well as the international community. Thanks to the support of the Government of Flanders, the province of West Flanders and the Research Foundation – Flanders, VLIZ was eventually launched more than two years later, on 1 October 1999. Dr Jan Mees was appointed General Director of this new institute.

The short history of this young institution is mainly one of growth and development. This can be taken literally: while VLIZ initially consisted of a team of ten permanent and two temporary employees, this number had risen to 22 permanent and 36 temporary employees by December 2012. Together with the work force, the VLIZ offices have also grown over the years. During the first two and a half years, the institute was housed in the old offices of the Institute for Marine Scientific Research (IZWO) at Victorialaan 3 in Ostend, in the annexes of ship motor factory ‘Valcke’. On 17 February 2002 the institute moved to the renovated warehouses of the Ostend fish market, overlooking the harbour channel.

Over the years, the institute has also grown in its role of supporting organisation of marine scientific research in Flanders. Indeed, VLIZ was established with a view to meeting the needs of these researchers. It performs this task by providing a range of services for which scientists themselves lack the time and/or the means, but that are nevertheless essential for the success of their work.

The responsibilities of VLIZ include the logistical support of marine scientific studies and particularly the deployment and equipment of a Flemish research vessel in partnership with VLOOT dab. From 2000 to 2012 the converted pilot boat ‘Zeeleeuw’ was used for this purpose, but on 13 September 2012 ‘Simon Stevin’ was christened as the new multidisciplinary coastal research vessel.

Scientists can make use of the VLIZ library services as well. This library, which initially consisted of the collections acquired from IZWO and ZWI, has developed into the largest collection of marine scientific literature in Belgium.

In addition, management of marine scientific data and information, science communication, the translation of research results on behalf of the government and the general public, the facilitation of scientific publications, the integration in international networks and the organisation of workshops and symposia belong to the core tasks of VLIZ. An important annual event is the VLIZ Young Marine Scientists' Day, a natural sequel to the IZWO open house days. The VLIZ Young Marine Scientists' Day has been organised since 2001 and provides a meeting place for marine professionals, students, policy makers and other interested people. The first edition was attended by approximately 120 people; in 2013 this figure had increased to 303.

As a result of the international success of VLIZ, several European and multilateral organisations opened their offices in Ostend in association with VLIZ. In 2007 Paul Breyne, the then governor of West Flanders and first chairman of the VLIZ Board of Directors, launched the umbrella term ‘InnovOcean site’ for all innovative marine initiatives located in these warehouses. At present, the IODE project office of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, the European Marine Board, Provinciaal Ankerpunt Kust (PAK) and the secretariat of the European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet) are housed under the same roof as VLIZ.