Alf Norkko, a professor in Baltic Sea research at the University of Helsinki, is a researcher with an international career. He has explored marine environments all over the world.
“The ocean is a mystical place. What lurks beneath the surface is the question I continually ask myself. As much as it’s become a cliche, it’s also true that we know more about the surface of the Moon than the bottom of the sea,” says Alf Norkko.
It was nature conservation that drove Norkko to become a marine researcher. Humans are responsible for the wellbeing of the mystical seas.
“Human impact on the ecosystem started to worry me. A functional and healthy nature is vital to us, yet we sometimes treat it with the utmost indifference.”
Some time ago, the distinguished ecologist returned to Finland to work at the Tvärminne Zoological Station.
“Tvärminne really sweeps you off your feet! It’s right next to the open sea. And, as a researcher, I of course value the station’s 116-year history. It is a guarantee of high-level understanding of what has happened and is happening to the marine environment. Here at the station, many marine-related elements have been monitored through extremely extensive time series compiled during long-term field experiments.”
Researchers and tools through donations
The Tvärminne Zoological Station is the largest research centre focused on coastal ecology in the Baltic Sea. This would not be possible without private donors, since the University’s core funding primarily covers the station’s – expensive in itself – upkeep only.
“In five or six years, we have been granted several very significant donations, which reflects on our research,” enthuses Norkko.
“When I started in 2012, the station only had a handful of year-round researchers. Today, we make up about a dozen, thanks to donors such as the Nottbeck and Talas Foundations, the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland, the Sophie von Julin Foundation, as well as Heidi Andersson, a private donor.
“With the help of donations, currently 14 postgraduate students have the opportunity to complete their doctoral dissertations at Tvärminne.
In addition to our traditional funders, we must not forget the role of the Academy of Finland and the EU.”
Tvärminne has also received donations for equipment purchases. A while ago, Stig Gustavson, a force at Konecranes Plc, raised an anniversary donation of €800,000 for the University. Combined with the matched funding received from the government, this sum is now being used to build an ultramodern research vessel for Tvärminne. Prior funding granted by the DROPP company and the Weisell Foundation has already been used to procure new equipment.
And that’s not all. The Port of Hanko is interested in developing an extensive online measurement network in cooperation with Tvärminne to monitor the impact of shipping on marine environment in real time.
“New research tools are without a doubt an essential prerequisite for the best possible research in our changing world,” Norkko sums up.
At Tvärminne, donations are also allocated to communications and publicity, with the objective of increasing the societal impact of the research.
“You can’t really get interested in something you don’t know anything about. That’s why we want to share as much knowledge about the Baltic Sea and our research as possible with the public and decision-makers,” says Norkko.
“Knowledge is the only thing that can awaken the desire to protect the sea and to gain an understanding of why basic academic research is vital to society.
Without proper and extensive basic research we are simply unable to understand anything of what, for example, is happening to the Baltic Sea, and why it is happening.”
Tvärminne has also attracted the Viking Line shipping company as a new partner. With the help of a donation granted by the company, researchers at Tvärminne help Viking Line inform passengers about the Baltic Sea and sustainable development through, for example, children’s marine laboratories.
“A lot of passengers travel on the ships, which provides the University with a lot of publicity. Naturally, I hope that as many passengers as possible become interested in and enthusiastic about our magnificent Baltic Sea, while also receiving a wake-up call to preserve it.”