Tjärnö or the excellence of the sea

A motivated team of researchers has turned a marine biology laboratory into a centre for development whilst respecting the environment. It sets an example for other coastal areas.

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The Tjärnö laboratory: in-depth knowledge of the marine environment at the service of sustainable development. The Tjärnö laboratory: in-depth knowledge of the marine environment at the service of sustainable development.


Off the western coast of Sweden, in the region of Västsverige, the island of Tjärnö is the most westerly outpost of the University of Gothenburg and the domain of biologists specialising in oceanographic research. The surrounding waters are teaming with marine biotopes of a unique ecological value: over 200 species live there and exist nowhere else in Swedish waters. Since its creation in 1963, the Marine Biology Laboratory at Tjärnö (TMBL) has attracted thousands of visitors, students and researchers, as well as tourists. Apart from research, the TMBL has also developed information activities which owe much to the personality of its former director, Dr. Lars Afzelius, who is passionate about the popularisation of science.

Transferring excellence

In this context the idea emerged to establish a regional centre of excellence, which offers a platform for networking and technology transfer. The objective was to integrate academic research, applied research and the response to the needs of end users both in public-sector administrations and NGOs and private-sector businesses. As well as promoting higher education studies in an area where access to them is limited, it also sets out to open up the region’s economy, which had until then been dependent on isolated commercial relations with neighbouring Norway. The TMBL also aims to place its in-depth knowledge of the marine environment at the service of the sustainable use of resources through the development of technologies and practices which are more respectful of the environment.

A spirit of commitment

In spite of its quite remote location, the TMBL has benefited from the particularly strong spirit of commitment among its team members, which has been passed on by Dr. Afzelius. The project has therefore developed into a highly demanding academic approach combined with a concern for the diversification of research into fields where local repercussions are the most immediate, such as fishing and aquaculture, the management of coastal areas, biological hydrodynamics and marine pharmacopoeia.

This commitment was required in order to work on several fronts: scientific excellence, the search for external cooperation and funding. The success of such projects lies in its triangular partnership model, university / public sector / private sector. Apart from the EU and the region, various organisations and private or public research funds have contributed to funding. The TMLB has worked jointly with other universities, national and international research institutes and industries, NGOs and schools.


With the arrival of new researchers who are attracted to the project, the TMBL’s workforce has more than doubled and now has over 75 members of staff including 50 researchers and – as a result of an equal opportunities policy - 45% women. The researchers take part in a number of interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral programmes and each year, the TMBL welcomes 500 students. Since 2005, the science park has been home to new European research infrastructure, the Centre for Marine Chemical Ecology (CeMaCe).

To date, the TMBL has cooperated with around twenty businesses operating in various sectors: the food and pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology, tourism, transport and maritime techniques. Six patents have been registered, six new companies have been launched and more than a hundred jobs have been created. Major investments have been made in equipment, including remotely controlled underwater vehicles and a public aquarium.

The sustainability of marine resources is the primary reason why companies turn to TMLB. Research has notably enabled more environmentally-friendly fishing and aquaculture management plans, new coatings for boats and submarine observation techniques to be developed. In total, the Tjärnö experience is of interest for other coastal regions in Europe, particularly in the outermost regions.

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