TREC team in Kristineberg, Sweden. On the way to take samples, 28 July 2023.
Joanna Zukowska/EMBL Joanna Zukowska/EMBL

How much life is there in a drop of seawater?

For a better understanding of the impact of human activity on Europe's seas and coasts. 

A habitat rich in biodiversity – Europe's coasts and oceans are home to a wide variety of plants and animals and are essential for the stability and sustainability of larger ecosystems.

There is a growing awareness of the effects of human activities on natural habitats, pollution, the decline in biodiversity and climate change. To gain a better understanding of humans' impact on European coasts and oceans, ZEISS supports EMBL1 on the unique research expedition TREC (Traversing European Coastlines) across Europe.

  • Researchers taking soil samples on a beach
  • Researcher viewing a sample via a microscope
  • Taking samples at the beach
  • Scientist working at a microscope in the laboratory
  • Taking samples at the beach
  • Taking samples at the beach
  • Taking samples at the beach
  • Taking samples at the beach
  • Taking samples at the beach
  • Scientist working at a microscope in the laboratory
  • Taking samples at the beach
  • Taking samples at the beach
  • Taking samples at the beach
  • Taking samples at the beach

An expedition to tackle ecological challenges

Exploring biodiversity, understanding ecosystems and studying the effects of changing environmental conditions on organisms – these are the goals of TREC, a scientific journey initiated by EMBL along the European coast.

Samples are taken from coastal habitats and the diversity of organisms is studied – from viruses, bacteria and protists to multicellular groups such as algae and animals.

More information about TREC

Peer Bork, Director of EMBL Heidelberg

The vision for TREC is really serving big societal environmental problems like climate change, but also biodiversity decline and loss. Chemical pollution is a big pillar of TREC.

Peer Bork

Director of EMBL Heidelberg

From Roscoff to Bilbao

  • >30

    The researchers involved come from over 30 countries.

  • 24

    European countries will be visited during the expedition.

  • >120

    Biological samples and environmental data will be taken from over 120 land-sea transects.

Mobile truck laboratories equipped with state-of-the-art technologies – including ZEISS microscopes – will visit over 100 sites in 24 European countries. Launched in April 2023, the TREC expedition is expected to last until the end of June 2024. Within this period, researchers will collect biological samples and environmental data on more than 120 land-sea transects. The expedition thus combines ocean research with parallel sampling of soil, sediment, shallow water and selected model organisms in different habitats.

The primary objective of TREC is the systematic and standardized sampling and multimodal acquisition of environmental metadata.

More information about the TREC expedition

Paola Bertucci, Head of EMBL Scientific Expeditions

We need to act immediately and internationally because ecosystems don't stop at national borders. We are facing challenges that are planetary challenges like climate change.

Paola Bertucci

Head of EMBL Scientific Expeditions

Gaining knowledge and conducting research

Along the TREC route, in cooperation with schools, young people have the opportunity to delve into this topic.

Bringing together people from different countries and with expertise in different disciplines enables discussions about the challenges of the present and the future. Knowledge and progress are shared with the public through a variety of scientific workshops on a wide range of topics – from demonstrating the power of molecular biology in addressing societal challenges to highlighting the connection and interaction between humans and the planet.2

Inspiring the explorers of tomorrow and generating enthusiasm for science – this is also the goal of "A Heart for Science," an international ZEISS initiative that aims to get young people aged 12 to 18 interested in STEM. To raise awareness for the importance of science for sustainability among the younger generation, ZEISS employees are participating along the route as part of this cooperation.

More information on “A Heart for Science”

Sustainability initiatives at ZEISS

ZEISS is committed to contributing to the environment and encouraging sustainable practice in the day-to-day operations. Based on the global sustainability goals adopted by the United Nations, ZEISS has derived three focus topics – value for society, climate action and circular economy – and is implementing concrete measures based on these focus topics worldwide.

  • 1

    Further information about EMBL: detailed information about the goals, activities and accomplishments to date of EMBL can be found here:

  • 2

    An overview with all planned activities along the coast can be found here: Public Engagement – TREC (