Red algae. Photo:Jonas Thormar.

PhD defence about vulnerable ecosystems in Greenland

Friday 15 Dec 17


Helle Jørgensbye
PhD student
DTU Aqua

Time & Place

Tuesday 2 January 2018, 1:00 p.m.

Building 202, room 1005
2800 Kgs. Lyngby

The thesis

A copy of the thesis ”Marine Ecosystems in West Greenland, Identification and Distribution” is available for reading at DTU Aqua. Contact Rikke Hansen,

PhD Student Helle Jørgensbye has identified corals and other benthic sedentary organisms in Western Greenland which are particular vulnerable to human activities. On 2 January she will defend her thesis 

When the fishing industry wants to attain an eco-certification, it must document—among other things—the fisheries’ impact on benthic organisms. Also other human activities, for example oil exploration and cable laying, must go through an environmental impact assessment. Benthic sedentary organisms, e.g. corals, are particular vulnerable as they are often fragile and slowgrowing and maybe even rare. Despite the growing interest in these organisms, very few studies have been conducted in Greenland waters.

In her PhD project, Helle Jørgensbye contributes to filling some of the existing data gaps and thereby aiding the Greenlandic fishing industry in attaining an MSC certification. The project, which is an industrial PhD in coorperation with Sustainable Fisheries Greenland, is based on multiple methods: literature studies, analysis of footage, photos and museum specimens, field work and fishermen’s ecological knowledge.

During field work, Helle Jørgensbye participated in mapping coralline algae growing in coral-like formations in Greenlandic waters. The fishermen in Greenland are familiar with them, but to the public the findings were surprising and they made headlines around the globe.

About the defence

Helle Jørgensbye will defend her PhD thesis "Marine Ecosystems in West Greenland, Identification and Distribution” on Tuesday 2 January 2018 at 1:00 p.m. at DTU, Kemitorvet, building 202, room 1005, 2800 Kgs. Lyngby.


  • Principal supervisor: Senior Researcher Bjarne Stage, DTU Aqua
  • Co supervisor: Professor Henrik Mosegaard, DTU Aqua


  • Professor Torkel Gissel Nielsen, DTU Aqua
  • University Fellow Anthony Grehan, NUI Galway, Ireland
  • Associate Professor Peter Rask Møller, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen


Summary of the thesis

During the last few years the scientific and environmental community has focused on the impact of human activities on benthic organisms. The term Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VME) is used to define vulnerable ecosystems based on benthic sedentary organisms. This project aimed at filling some of the data gaps that exist in Greenland and thereby aid the fishing industry in attaining eco certification (MSC certification) and at the same time aid the Greenland society in fulfilling its international obligations.

Despite this growing interest very few studies have taken place in Greenland waters. The absence of earlier work on VMEs and the general lack of distributional data made it necessary to make a preliminary assessment of species found in Greenland. A weighting system of VME organisms was made and an error score of uncertainty applied to identify areas where knowledge is most limited. Based on this, and available data, three organisms were chosen as cases.

A range of different methods has been used throughout the PhD covering different areas of science traditions. The description of sediment distribution is an important part of understanding distribution patterns for sessile organisms. There has been a focus on museum specimens and early literature and to make this data available for future research. Fishers Ecological Knowledge (FEK) has played an important part in this PhD and it has been shown that FEK stemming from strictly commercial highly technical factory trawlers has a large potential in future research. Analysis of pictures and video footage from different sources was used as a source for recent data. Habitat suitability modelling was used as part of an analysis of the deep sea cup coral meadows. Museum data was used and two tests of the dataset was introduced before choosing the model used. Using these methods in unison made it possible to explore several angels of the problem and helped define VMEs in Greenland.

A few VMEs have been pinpointed during this study; another important contribution is a better understanding where new VMEs might be found in the coming years. Some articles made it into public view and the findings of the deep sea Lophelia pertusa reef and the maërl algal reef made headlines around the globe.

The publication of original data (in the articles for this PhD) is a part of an active approach to improve data availability for deep sea species in Greenland. So is the dissemination of the raw data to the publicly available ICES VME database. Public available data can help managers and scientists deciding on future approaches as the weighting system can help decide which organisms to focus on.