Inaugural lecture Bert Hoeksema: 'The hidden biodiversity of coral reefs'

November 16th, 2021
Prof. dr. Bert Hoeksema op expeditie

Tropical marine biodiversity and the teachings of coral reefs is the field of work of Prof. Dr. Bert Hoeksema. On Tuesday November 16, he accepted his position at the University of Groningen, supported by Naturalis, with the delivery of his inaugural address entitled “Hidden Biodiversity of Coral Reefs”.

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Prof. dr. Bert W. Hoeksema

Build on
an age-old collection

Ever since he was twelve years old, Bert Hoeksema has been scanning the beaches of Terschelling in search of shells, crabs and other sea treasures. The family vacations were the beginning of a marine biologist to be, who focuses on the biodiversity around coral reefs. And still, Hoeksema gets a lot of satisfaction from his work: 'The underwater world continues to surprise me, there is always something new to discover'. He likes to share this admiration through his colorful publications, which are characterized by the many underwater photos.
Jakarta, Koh Tao, the Caribbean Islands and Java are some of the many expedition destinations where Hoeksema does new findings. ‘I keep making discoveries even in the places I return to after a long time. A sign for myself that I am learning to look better at the environment.' The many expeditions are clearly reflected in the Naturalis collection, where much of Hoeksema's collected material can be found. ‘It is important that the material is properly preserved, so that modern research can once again build on the centuries-old collection.’

A round

Unfortunately, the once species-rich coral reefs are also becoming increasingly scarce. “Corals are threatened by global warming, pollution and unsustainable use of the reefs and their inhabitants.” Hoeksema emphasizes that research into these important organisms is therefore crucial to support their conservation. "Our role is to educate the public about the current state of the underwater world, and for example the influence of invasive species."
Hoeksema is therefore very pleased with his return to the University of Groningen, the place where his scientific career once started. ‘I want to be able to mean something to the students, and I am therefore proud that I can now give something back through my appointment as honorary professor of Tropical Marine Biodiversity. The circle is completed.'

The inaugural lecture
in brief

The Hidden Biodiversity of Coral Reefs

'The coral reef is considered to be the most species-rich ecosystem in the sea. Coral reefs are mainly found in the tropics, where they are a source of income for the local population, for example through fishing or tourism. The latter concerns, among other things, the diving industry, where divers try to see as many special animals as possible. Due to the growing accessibility and attention to coral reefs, we also know that they are threatened by global warming, unsustainable fishing and pollution. That is why they need to be protected.
Many of the plants and animals found in coral reefs have not yet been scientifically described and for known species it is not always clear how they exactly live. Therefore, we do not know enough about what to protect. Corals play the main role on reefs by providing a foundation or shelter for other species or serving as food. Many small animals live hidden in or on the coral and depend on a specific type of host coral. It is not always clear what role they play for the host, because some of these coral symbiotes are so small that they are difficult to find. Many species are not yet known because they are very similar to others and can initially only be distinguished using molecular techniques (DNA). We assume that some of the biodiversity of coral reefs has disappeared. However, the old collections of Naturalis Biodiversity Center can serve as scientific reference material to investigate whether this is correct. This also makes it possible to reveal the hidden biodiversity of the past', said Hoeksema during his inaugural lecture.


Bert Hoeksema graduated cum laude in Marine Biology at the University of Groningen in 1984, where he is now returning as a professor. He conducts research for Naturalis on the ecology and evolution of reef corals and their relationships with other animal species, and on invasive coral species. Since 1983 Hoeksema has specialized in the biodiversity of coral reefs; he obtained his doctorate cum laude from Leiden University in 1990. For his research, he mainly carried out fieldwork in Indonesia and the Dutch Caribbean, two areas that are also well represented in Naturalis' scientific collections. The MSc program in marine biology at the University of Groningen is internationally renowned and will give new opportunities for education and research through the collaboration with Hoeksema and Naturalis.