Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics

Photographer: Bob Bronshoff

dr. ir. J.M. (Jasper) de Goeij

Assistant Professor of Tropische Marine biologie
  • Faculty of Science
    Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics
  • Visiting address
    Science Park A
    Science Park 904  Room number: C4.166
  • Postal address:
    Postbus  94240
    1090 GE  Amsterdam
    T: 0205258290


How can tropical coral reefs be so diverse and productive? And how do sponges make sure the coral reef can persist as biological hotspot? Sponges are indeed important animals in a variety of marine and freshwater ecosystems (they even occur in the canals of Amsterdam). Apart from their ecological significance, sponges are found to be interesting organisms in a wide variety of scientific fields. From an evolutionary point of view, they are the oldest known multicellular organism on Earth, more than 700 Million years old. Moreover, they show a striking resemblance to the human gastro-intestinal tract. From a biotechnological point of view, they are considered to be chemical factories; Most of the 15.000 known sponge species (there are only about 5.000 mammals on this planet) produce substances that can lead to the development of new medicines against cancer and HIV, new anti-biotics, food supplements and biomaterials.

Jasper de Goeij working on the Caribbean reefs of Curaçao

Sponges: from fundamental reserach to application

In our group, we are interested in two main subjects: the functioning of highly productive ecosystems thriving in oligotrophic (nutrient-poor) waters and the physiology of sponges and their associated microbes. We try to be question-driven and use a wide variety of experimental approaches and techniques to answer our questions, from molecular- to cell- to ecosystem level. More important: We strongly emphasize the power of fundamental research as an innovative basis leading to application. This approach requires a close collaboration with (inter)national specialists in both science and commerce. Together with Dr Ronald Osinga from the Wageningen University, I'm co-owner of the research-driven Blue-Biotech company Porifarma BV (

Our model sponge: the marine, encrusting coral reef sponge Halisarca caerulea

Sponges as animal model

 Sponges are a close collaboration with numerous microbes and are known as biotechnological 'milk-cows'. There is one problem, though: We are (yet) not able to grow them under controlled conditions, for example in artificial seawater aquaria. Our group was to first to collaborate with pathologists and cell biologists from the Maastricht University to discover how sponge cells are growing and being lost. In fact, sponges showed the fastest cell cycle of any multicellular organism found to date. The cell biology of sponges now gives the oppertuntity to determine the 'state' of a sponge: Is it growing, or in steady state, maybe regenerating? This helps us to understand and, ultimately, control the growth of sponges in aquaria. Sponges also show a striking resemblance to a human colon, which makes it an interesting animal model for cancer research and as an uptake system.

Grandpa sponge: Sponge filter chamber (left) versus human colon (right)

The coral reef as blueprint for sustainable aquaculture

Per square meter, a coral reef produces more energy than most human factories are able to. The coral, however, occurs in tropical, oligotrophic waters, also known as the marine equivalent of a desert. Therefore, it has tight and very efficient recycling mechanisms that prevent energy nutrients to leak from the ecosystem. In other words: the system is highly productive, without leaking waste. This knowledge leads to create sustainable ways of aquaculture, the so-called Sustainable Integrated Ocean Farming (SIOF). We aim to understand the functioning of the natural coral reef ecosystem. Recently, we discovered how sponges are at the base of a recycling mechanism we refer to as the "Sponge Loop". The important role of sponges helps to better understand and protect coral reefs, which are in worldwide peril.

Could this beautiful coral reef ecosystem be the blueprint for sustainable aquaculture?

De Goeij explains the sponge loop and how this leads to sustainable fish farms on Dutch TV-program Labyrint TV (NPO; with English subtitles):

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The importance of sponges, besides sponge Bob (...), is explained to children on Dutch childrens show Het Klokhuis (NTR: not subtitled):

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PhD-student Brittany Alexander and MSc-students Fabienne van Doveren and Kevin Liebrand jump into the Amsterdam canals in search for the freshwater sponge!

Dutch newspaper Het Parool

Local Dutch TV program AT5


Porifarma's Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) looking for sponges in the deep sea, but encounters Moon Fish! Click here to watch the video made in the Azores


Afraid of sharks? Only for the brave: Jasper de Goeij's encounter with a huge Mako shark in the Coral Sea (off the coast of Australia)

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  • Bart, M. C., de Vet, S. J., de Bakker, D. M., Alexander, B. E., van Oevelen, D., van Loon, E. E., ... de Goeij, J. M. (2019). Spiculous skeleton formation in the freshwater sponge Ephydatia fluviatilis under hypergravity conditions. PeerJ.


  • Kenny, N. J., de Goeij, J. M., de Bakker, D. M., Whalen, C. G., Berezikov, E., & Riesgo, A. (2018). Towards the identification of ancestrally shared regenerative mechanisms across the Metazoa: A Transcriptomic case study in the Demosponge Halisarca caerulea. Marine Genomics, 37, 135-147. DOI: 10.1016/j.margen.2017.11.001  [details] 


  • Rix, L., de Goeij, J. M., van Oevelen, D., Struck, U., Al-Horani, F. A., Wild, C., & Naumann, M. S. (2017). Differential recycling of coral and algal dissolved organic matter via the sponge loop. Functional Ecology, 31(3), 778-789. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2435.12758  [details] 
  • de Goeij, J. M., Lesser, M. P., & Pawlik, J. R. (2017). Nutrient Fluxes and Ecological Functions of Coral Reef Sponges in a Changing Ocean. In J. L. Carballo, & J. J. Bell (Eds.), Climate Change, Ocean Acidification and Sponges: Impacts Across Multiple Levels of Organization (pp. 373-410). Cham: Springer. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-59008-0_8  [details] 




  • Alexander, B. E., Liebrand, K., Osinga, R., van der Geest, H. G., Admiraal, W., Cleutjens, J. P. M., ... de Goeij, J. M. (2014). Cell turnover and detritus production in marine sponges from tropical and temperate benthic ecosystems. PLoS One, 9(10), e109486. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109486  [details] 
  • Mueller, B., de Goeij, J. M., Vermeij, M. J. A., Mulders, Y., van der Ent, E., Ribes, M., & van Duyl, F. C. (2014). Natural Diet of Coral-Excavating Sponges Consists Mainly of Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC). PLoS One, 9(2), e90152. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090152  [details] 


  • de Goeij, J. M., van Oevelen, D., Vermeij, M. J. A., Osinga, R., Middelburg, J. J., de Goeij, A. F. P. M., & Admiraal, W. (2013). Surviving in a Marine Desert: The Sponge Loop Retains Resources Within Coral Reefs. Science, 342(6154), 108-110. DOI: 10.1126/science.1241981  [details] 


  • Hunting, E. R., de Goeij, J. M., Asselman, M., van Soest, R. W. M., & van der Geest, H. G. (2010). Degradation of mangrove-derived organic matter in mangrove associated sponges. Bulletin of Marine Science, 86(4), 871-877. DOI: 10.5343/bms.2010.1001  [details] 
  • Hunting, E. R., de Goeij, J. M., van Soest, R. W. M., & van der Geest, H. G. (2010). Implications of mangrove-derived DOM for sponge community dynamics. In Euro ISRS symposium 2010: Reefs in a changing environment. 13-17 December, Wageningen.


  • de Goeij, J. M., de Kluijver, A., van Duyl, F. C., Vacelet, J., Wijffels, R. H., de Goeij, A. F. P. M., ... Schutte, B. (2009). Cell kinetics of the marine sponge Halisarca caerulea reveal rapid cell turnover and shedding. Journal of Experimental Biology, 212, 3892-3900. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.034561 


  • de Goeij, J. M., Moodley, L., Houtekamer, M., Carballeira, N. M., & van Duyl, F. C. (2008). Tracing 13C-enriched dissolved and particulate organic carbon in the bacteria-containing coral reef sponge Halisarca caerulea: Evidence for DOM-feeding. Limnology and Oceanography, 53(4), 1376-1386. DOI: 10.4319/lo.2008.53.4.1376 
  • de Goeij, J. M., van den Berg, H., van Oostveen, M. M., & van Duyl, F. C. (2008). Major bulk dissolved organic carbon (DOC) removal by encrusting coral reef cavity sponges. Marine Ecology - Progress Series, 357, 139-151. DOI: 10.3354/meps07403 


  • de Goeij, J. M., & van Duyl, F. C. (2007). Coral cavities are sinks of dissolved organic carbon (DOC). Limnology and Oceanography, 52(6), 2608-2617. DOI: 10.4319/lo.2007.52.6.2608 


  • Scheffers, S. R., de Goeij, J. M., van Duyl, F. C., & Bak, R. P. M. (2003). The cave-profiler: a simple tool to describe the 3-D structure of inaccessible coral reef cavities. Coral reefs, 22(1), 49-53. DOI: 10.1007/s00338-003-0285-6 


  • de Goeij, J. (2016). EU ERC Starting Grant (1,465,097 Euro).
  • de Goeij, J. (2010). NWO VENI grant (250,000 euro).

Media appearance

  • de Goeij, J. (24-06-2017). Jasper de Goeij over het sponzencongres. Jasper de Goeij over het sponzencongres.

Talk / presentation

  • de Goeij, J. (speaker) (7-2-2014). Sponges are the intestines of coral reefs: From ecosystem to stem cells., University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, European Research Institute for the Biology of Ageing, Groningen, The Netherlands..


  • de Goeij, J. M. (2009). Element cycling on tropical coral reefs: The cryptic carbon shunt revealed. Enschede: PrintPartners Ipskamp DOI: 10.1242/​jeb.034561 
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  • Porifarma B.V.

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