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Embracing the Blue - South African Marine Science Symposium 2017

By Lara Atkinson, Grant van der Heever, Hannah Raven and Mapula Makwela, SAEON Egagasini Node
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Grant van der Heever, offshore instrumentation technician at SAEON’s Egagasini Node, presents his talk titled Variability in the distribution patterns and diet of two common catsharks caught in demersal trawls off the coasts of RSA at SAMSS 2017


From left: Mapula Makwela, an MSc student at SAEON's Egagasini Node, at the symposium with her supervisors Drs Lara Atkinson (SAEON) and Kerry Sink (SANBI)

The 2017 South African Marine Science Symposium (SAMSS), the 16th such event, was hosted by Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth from 4 to 7 July.

The theme of this year’s SAMSS was Embracing the Blue - Unlocking the ocean's economic potential whilst maintaining social and ecological resilience.

SAMSS is held every three years and is partially funded by the South African Network for Coastal and Oceanic Research (SANCOR). The symposium focuses on providing a platform for South African students and researchers (with a strong focus on students) to share their current research with the wider community. International participation is encouraged.

SAMSS 2017 was a packed programme, starting off with a full day of enabled discussion sessions on specific research topics, three highly cited international plenary presentations, three fascinating plenary presentations from South African researchers, a wonderfully entertaining and informative presentation by one of the 2014 Gilchrist Medal recipients, Professor Mark Gibbons, and that is before even considering the 190 presentations and 200 posters on display. A busy week indeed!


As the first international plenary presenter, Professor Robert Costanza from the Australian National University gave an inspiring talk on the need for a significantly more transdisciplinary approach to understanding and managing our marine and coastal ecosystem services. This was followed by a pragmatic talk by Professor Coleen Vogel from the University of the Witwatersrand, on the “wicked” environmental challenges facing scientists and society and how to integrate the two more closely.

The following day Professor Omar Defeo from the Universidad de la República in Uruguay, and Mr Craig Smith from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, shared South American and South African successes and issues surrounding subsistence and small-scale fisheries. Prof. Defeo shared his experiences working with 25 research projects that involved subsistence fisheries in Uruguay and Mexico, whereas Mr Smith highlighted the progress made and remaining challenges faced by government in launching the small-scale fisheries process in South Africa. Mr Smith also showcased 'Abalobi', a mobile app suite and program that facilitates fisher-driven governance and product tracking up the value chain.

On the final day of the conference, Professor Callum Roberts from the University of New York, described the role of marine protected areas (MPAs) in a changing world and how MPAs can help us navigate a sustainable path through the next half century. Prof. Roberts emphasised how beautiful and pristine many parts of South Africa's offshore environment appear to be, and how critical it is that these are protected now, before these ecosystems end up decimated like much of the northern hemisphere.

Professor Amanda Lombard from the Nelson Mandela University, followed on with the MPA theme at a more local scale, focusing in on the aspects of opening South Africa's oldest MPA to fishing and the repercussions thereof. Both talks showed that meaningful and transparent multi-stakeholder engagement should be applied to decisions regarding the management of MPAs for the best possible outcome.

The SAEON Egagasini team were present in force, with all seven biodiversity team members presenting talks or posters and Nicole du Plessis presenting about the academic component of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) that SAEON Egagasini are set to take over Chair later this year.

SAEON Egagasini presentations

Dr Lara Atkinson kicked off proceedings for SAEON’s Egagasini Node on 5 July 2017, presenting her talk on the value of foundational biodiversity knowledge in tracking environmental change.

This was followed by a speed talk by Grant van der Heever, instrumentation technician at SAEON, on his master’s project that investigated variability in the habitat use patterns and diet of two common catsharks caught in demersal trawls off the coasts of South Africa.

Robyn Adams presented a speed talk about her master’s research titled 'Determining an optimal photographic sampling intensity for the Prince Edward islands'.

Mapula Makwela, MSc student, presented a poster about a component of her master’s project, titled Embracing the blue through biodiversity surrogacy for marine biodiversity assessment and planning during a lively evening poster session.

Nicole du Plessis presented a speed talk on behalf of Dr Juliet Hermes about the role of academia as South Africa takes over as Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).

On Thursday 6 July, Jock Currie presented a component of his recently submitted PhD research - distribution changes in the demersal fish community on the Agulhas Bank over the past 30 years.

SAEON’s postdoctoral research fellow, Dr Charles von der Meden, described the habitat associations and distribution of the hyperbenthic shrimp, Nauticaris marionensis, around the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands in his presentation.

SAEON intern Hannah Raven presented her talk on the preliminary results of her first MSc data chapter titled 'Habitat and epibenthic biodiversity in Algoa Bay’ on the last day of the symposium.

All in all, SAMSS 2017 was an enjoyable, successful event in which many SAEON staff and students participated. Old friendships were rekindled, new networks were built and future collaborations will flourish.

We already look forward to SAMSS 2020!

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