From Molecular to Marine: My journey into Oyster Heaven Four Questions for Natanael

With a scientific approach at its core, Oyster Heaven is dedicated to thoroughly mapping out the process of oyster reef recovery. Due to the scarcity of large, thriving flat oyster reefs in Europe, our understanding relies heavily on compiled research, comparative studies, and modeling. To accurately assess the full impact of oyster reefs, our research team studies various aspects of oyster reefs. Introducing Natanael, who made the leap from biological fields to delve into the microbiological dynamics of marine environments. Joining  Oyster Heaven, he focuses on understanding the nutrient management capacity of oyster reefs.

What led you to join Oyster Heaven?

“Back when George told me about his new start-up ‘Oyster Heaven’, I was completing my Master’s degree, and Oyster Heaven was still in its infancy. Despite my enthusiasm and its potential, I couldn’t really envision a role for myself in it at the time. With my background not aligned with marine biology and my focus on securing a PhD position in molecular biology, I applied for several PhD opportunities abroad and expected a swift transition. However, this proved to be more challenging than anticipated, which led me to work as a science recruiter. Meanwhile, I regularly received updates from Oyster Heaven, which had been growing steadily since our initial conversation.”

Securing tanks in tidal zones during low tide.
Setting up a mesocosm experiment at NIOZ facility in Yerseke.

“As time passed, George approached me again with an offer to join the company, with a molecular biology research project that aligns with oyster research. As the company had expanded, exciting plans were underway, I decided to leave my job and join Oyster Heaven’s mission to restore oyster reefs.”

Which part of switching to a different direction did you find the most challenging?

“Transitioning into this new role, I faced typical feelings of doubt and insecurities about my suitability and preparedness. As my education was focused on laboratory and research skills in the pharmaceutical field, I had little experience applying this to ecologies and marine biology. Fortunately, Oyster Heaven provided me with the opportunity to work on marine biology projects, including a 6-month period with Dr. Heather Sugden’s group at Newcastle University at the British North Eastern coast.”

“At Newcastle University, I worked as a research associate alongside Hannah Earp, a post-doc researcher. We were part of the LIFE WADER project, a collaborative 5-year project aimed at conserving and improving the Northumberland Coast and the Tweed catchment area by focusing on issues such as water quality improvement and invasive species control. Our group’s specific focus was on investigating and tackling opportunistic macroalgae overgrowth in the protected area, Budle Bay.”

Newcastle University's Marine Dove Laboratory at sunrise.
Taking algae samples at Budle Bay.

What is the most interesting thing you learnt so far?

“Opportunistic macroalgae, which flourish as a result of elevated nutrient levels in coastal waters, mostly due to anthropogenic influences like agricultural runoff and sewage waters, pose a threat to local habitats and wildlife. Through this research, we aimed to understand the underlying causes of macroalgae overgrowth and develop targeted interventions to mitigate its impact.”

“After six months in Newcastle, I departed with mixed feelings: Gratefulness for the enriching experience, the people I met and my personal and professional growth but also eagerness to return to Rotterdam.”

Now working with Oyster Heaven back in The Netherlands, what do you most look forward to?

“During those six months in Newcastle, I learned a lot about macroalgae, thinking more ecologically, and got settled back into the research environment. Now, I am very excited to actually start learning more about how this applies to oyster habitats. Next to the subject matter, I am looking forward to continuing my path towards becoming an independent researcher. Research aligns closely with my education and has become my preferred occupation over the years. In the research I will undertake, I aim to make significant contributions to Oyster Heaven’s mission and achieve what I look forward to the most: Building viable and vibrant oyster reefs with our team of exciting colleagues!”

The mudflat in Budle Bay, where the opportunistic algae we were investigating was occurring.

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