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A new era of blue enlightenment

By Jennifer Veitch, Charine Collins and Juliet Hermes, SAEON Egagasini Node
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A new era of blue enlightenment was ushered in by the launch of Brazil-EU-SA cooperation in Atlantic research and innovation.

This flagship initiative aims to improve scientific understanding and promote technological advances that will facilitate sustainable growth of the blue economy within the broader perspective of climate change.

The high-level ministerial and scientific event, which was held in Lisbon, Portugal from 12 to 14 July, was hosted by Carlos Moedas, the European Commissioner for research, science and innovation. He was joined by ministers Naledi Pandor (South Africa), Gilberto Kassab (Brazil) and Manuel Heitor (Portugal) in the opening ceremony. 


South African delegates with the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor. Front row, from left: Ann Maraba (DST), Stewart Bernard (CSIR), Jennifer Veitch (SAEON), Isabelle Ansorge (UCT), Gilbert Siko (DST), Minister Naledi Pandor (DST), Charine Collins (SAEON), Alekandra Roychoudhury (US), Pedro Monteiro (CSIR) and Teuns Phahlamohlaka (NRF). Back row, from left: Vinny Pillay (DST), Belemane Semoli (DAFF), Juliet Hermes (SAEON), Mthuthuzeli Gulekana (DEA), Brett Macey (DAFF) and Thomas auf der Heyde (DST).

Commissioner Moedas told delegates that the cooperation will represent 'science diplomacy in action' and will build on existing bilateral agreements, including the Declarations of Intent on Marine Research and Innovation Cooperation (EU and SA) and the South-South Framework (Brazil-SA) for scientific and technical cooperation in the south and tropical Atlantic as well as the Southern Ocean.

In her address, Minister Pandor stressed that the cooperation represents the responsible custodianship of the ocean and served as a flagship for sustainable development, both of which are key objectives of South Africa's Operation Phakisa. She urged that 'no one be left behind' in this new era of blue enlightenment - projects should be transdisciplinary, connecting science with society and ties with other Atlantic-African countries should be strengthened.

Belém Statement

The cooperation was ratified by the signing of the Belém Statement on 13 July in the 16th century Belém Tower, a monument to Portugal's 'Age of Discovery' that bore witness to some of the first Atlantic voyages. The Statement is an instrument through which scientific exploration of marine systems, that do not adhere to national boundaries, can occur in a unified, collaborative and mutually beneficial manner.

Drs Juliet Hermes, Charine Collins and Jennifer Veitch of the Egagasini Node represented SAEON during the three-day event. Other South African institutes represented were the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), University of Cape Town (UCT), Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), University of Stellenbosch (US), and the Departments of Science and Technology (DST), Environmental Affairs (DEA) and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).

Building an Atlantic Ocean community

The ministerial event was preceded by a day dedicated to building an Atlantic Ocean community, structured around three parallel sessions dubbed the 'projects and ideas meeting place'. Key stakeholders, industry experts, funding agencies, research and academic organisations had the opportunity to discuss and workshop ideas regarding climate and ecosystems, observing systems and forecasting, food security, ocean technology, investment opportunities, ocean literacy, national initiatives, philanthropy and the private sector.


The high-level ministerial and scientific event was held in Portugal in July. The cooperation was ratified by the signing of the Belém Statement in the 16th century Belém Tower (pictured), a monument to Portugal's 'Age of Discovery' that bore witness to some of the first Atlantic voyages.

A session titled 'Connecting to better observe the Atlantic', was hosted by AtlantOS and PREFACE, Horizon 2020 and FP7-funded projects respectively. Discussion was steered around the integration of existing and rather loosely coordinated observing systems, including the SAMBA and ASCA arrays, into a system that is cohesive and sustainable.

EU-South African cooperation was the focus of an ESASTAP 2020 session, another Horizon 2020-funded project that aims to strengthen the technology and research innovation between Europe and South Africa. The session was hosted by Arthur Guischet (IRD) and Teuns Phahlamohlaka (National Research Foundation, South Africa) and the primary intention was to initiate dialogue between EU and South African researchers and to provide a platform from which collaborations can develop. ESASTAP 2020 supports EU-South Africa collaboration by providing mobility funding for so-called 'twinning' research activities.

Catalysing possible synergies

The following two days were attended by high-level ministerial representatives. Facilitated round-table discussions followed relevant project showcases from many institutes representing the EU, Brazil and South Africa on key themes:

  • Enhancing ocean observations in the Atlantic: from Antarctica to the Arctic;
  • Striving synergies;
  • New marine value chains for Atlantic communities;
  • Atlantic Ocean ecosystem under pressure;
  • The connected Atlantic Ocean: riding the next wave of ocean technology and innovation;
  • The Atlantic Ocean entrepreneur-ship.

The projects showcased existing observational systems, technological advances, Horizon 2020-funded projects, ecosystem and societal concerns as well as sustainable development. More than providing background for the round-table discussions, they catalysed possible synergies between institutes and countries.

Representing SAEON, and indeed South Africa, at the launch of 'the new era of blue enlightenment' was an invaluable opportunity for building new collaborations with our European and Brazilian counterparts, with whom we are unified by the Atlantic Ocean.

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