All about Science, Systems and Society – MA-RE 2010 FORUM

30 Nov 2010 - 06:45

All about Science, Systems and Society



The Ma-Re 2010 forum themed “Back to BASICS” was anything but basic.  The forum which featured the Benguela and Agulhas Systems for supporting Interdisciplinary Climate-Change Research (BASICS) programme was introduced by a brief opening by Prof Kathy Driver (Dean of the Science Faculty) and Ma-Re director (Prof John Field).  Both speakers set the scene by informing the 85 attendees that the success of Ma-Re Institute and its associated research projects is due to the diverse suite of student projects and the high standard of research produced.  The all day programme consisted of high quality presentations by students from all departments associated with Ma-Re interspersed with talks by various affiliated expert researchers.

The morning session highlighted key research areas such as an ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) focussing particular on the small pelagic fishing industry, the Angola Low atmospheric feature, how to marry ethnographic research with EAF and finally how tagging elephant seals with oceanographic instrumentation is a novel way of exploring uncharted waters of the Southern Ocean. Key messages that were illustrated by these talks were that model-based indicators (e.g. concerning sardine and anchovy) can be used to highlight changes in the Benguela system.  Furthermore these types of model-based outputs would play a pertinent role in effectively managing resources in a complex ecosystem such as the Benguela system.  Dr Lesley Green delivered a thought-provoking presentation on the importance of using ethnographic information when looking at small scale fisheries management. She clearly conveyed the message that when we refer to “ecosystem approach to fisheries”, we should maintain and treat fisher people as part of that system and realise that management practices will influence this element of the system, so it should be considered when developing management strategies.

The mid-morning session focused on a variety of topics from the Census of Marine Life project which has a local database of OBIS situated in South Africa, to the lack of management of the blue shark.  Perturbing figures mentioned were that currently 80% of all bycatch in the tuna and sword fish industries are blue sharks.  This resource also has a direct fishery which exploits it; therefore without proper management the blue shark populations will soon be reduced to critical levels.  An interesting perspective was delivered from one of the BASICS-funded students in the Department of Sociology on how sudden and unpredictable environmental changes could lead to major societal changes.  Something not often considered by natural science is how the closure of fishing seasons could be regarded as a food security issue in the poorer Eastern Cape communities.  It was further extrapolated that such societal stresses could lead to an increase in other pressures such as the HIV/Aids epidemic.  Zoning in on the human component of the ecosystem management made for interesting discussions during lunch.

The final session of the Forum was seasoned with presentations on the breeding productivity of the African penguins, the physical dynamics of currents in  False Bay, and the use of seal scats to obtain ingested hake otoliths to estimate fish growth rates which may be useful for managing for the hake fishery.  All of which generated lively discussions and debate.  The entire day was also peppered by short talks on what is currently happening at the Ma-Re Institute.  A brief talk on the new French – South Africa programme, International Centre for Education, Marine and Atmospheric Science over Africa (ICEMASA) was given.  The aim of this programme being to jointly conduct research and in doing so train South Africans and French students alike in global change issues in the Southern Ocean, African margins and Tropical Indian Ocean. The main thrusts would be climate variability, ocean dynamics and global change impacts on marine ecosystems.

Another exciting initiative that is currently taking shape via Ma-Re is the new Nansen-Tutu Centre.  This joint agreement with the Norwegian Nansen Centre hopes to “improve the capacity to observe, understand and predict the marine ecosystem variability on” various timescales with an end to support “scientific and societal needs including fisheries, coastal management, maritime security, recreation and tourism.”  The scientific opening of the Nansen-Tutu Centre will be held on Dec 7-9 in conjunction with partners in operational oceanography initiative in South Africa. The entire Forum culminated in not only in Ma-Re researchers and students giving a glimpse of their work, but in Ma-Re members leaving with much intellectual nourishment.

Compiled by Pavs Pillay
Scientific & Communications Liaisons Officer