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People, Coasts and Oceans: Opportunities for a changing future

By Tania Duba, Nicole du Plessis and Jennifer Veitch, SAEON Egagasini Node
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From 1 to 6 July, the University of Mauritius hosted delegates attending the 11th Symposium of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) under the theme ‘People, Coasts and Oceans: Opportunities for a changing future’. 

The biennial symposium has grown to attract over 650 delegates from the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region and elsewhere (over 30 countries in total), making it the largest open conference in the region on marine and coastal issues and featuring more than 470 posters, 150 oral presentations, 20 special sessions, 10 mini symposia and six keynote presentations.

SAEON delegates not only contributed to the conference with four poster presentations, but also led several special sessions. 


SAEON delegates attending the 11th WIOMSA symposium in Mauritius

Societal impacts of research in the Western Indian Ocean region

Most presentations highlighted the societal impacts of marine and coastal research in the WIO region. Attention is increasingly being paid to bridging the gaps between research and social practices such as policy-making and collaborative management of the marine and coastal environment.

Three focus areas encompass this overarching theme: 

1. Value of multidisciplinary, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinary marine science research 

Delegates said they deemed the challenges arising from global climate change complex and severe in the marine and coastal environments. These challenges include relationships between climate change stressors such as sea-level rise, ocean acidification, heat and rainfall-related extreme events and their impact on the natural environment as well as the functioning of our society.

To confront these challenges and comprehensively understand the connection between natural and social aspects, some delegates argued that it may be necessary to dissolve the disciplinary boundaries. Moreover, disciplinary cross-cutting issues may need to be clearly identified and defined as an initial step for collaborative research between and among natural science and social science disciplines.

2. Capacity building and community involvement in policy-making 

Communities are considered crucial role players in the implementation of policies and yet they seem to have the least influence in the policy-making process. During this conference there was significant recognition of the role played by coastal communities in implementing environmental management policies and practices. Various presentations shared their assessments of community readiness to participate in marine spatial planning and training initiatives. Also, the case was argued for the conservation of marine resources through incentivised environmental stewardship in communities.

3. Marine conservation and people rights 


Figure 1. Steps for the suggested adaptive MPA management approach

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are common strategies for the conservation of marine life with the aim of protecting marine biodiversity in the region. Usually, these MPAs are state controlled. During the conference they were described as ‘contested spaces’ as they seem to benefit some and disadvantage others. The effectiveness of MPAs in meeting their social, economic, biological and governance objectives was questioned.

Seemingly, while MPAs are ecologically effective, there is considerable uncertainty over their socio-economic and governance impacts. Delegates suggested that this may be due to the vagueness associated with socio-economic and governance objectives of MPAs.

It was highlighted that some of the existing MPAs in the region do not even have social and economic goals and therefore do not consider the impacts on coastal communities. As a result, the access rights of coastal residents to the sea for nutritional, cultural or recreational needs stand a high chance of being violated.

As a way forward, it was suggested that an adaptive management approach for MPAs is needed. The steps for the suggested adaptive MPA management approach are outlined in Figure 1. 

Key action steps to the success of this adaptive MPA management approach include strategic thinking and planning, data entry, management and monitoring.

Special sessions

The Egagasini Node hosted and participated in several special sessions held on 5 July:

1. South African Chapter of the Indian Ocean Rim Association Academic Group (SA IORAG) 

The SA IORAG hosted a special session in collaboration with the Western Indian Ocean Early Career Scientists Network (WIO-ECSN) under the theme ‘Fostering regional engagement through transdisciplinary research’. The SA IORAG Secretariat took the opportunity of the symposium being held in Mauritius, the home of the IORA Secretariat, to provide young researchers interested in policy development the opportunity to engage with the IORA Secretariat. 

The first speakers were representatives from the WIO-ECSN. Tania Duba (South African coordinator) and Marcelina Mushi (Tanzanian coordinator) spoke about their research interests and why they thought following the transdisciplinary research approach was important.

Prof Juliet Hermes (SA IORAG Chair) then gave a presentation on how to participate in the science-to-policy development space. This was followed by a presentation from Prof Narnia Bohler-Muller (IORAG Chair) on a recent study in which she had participated on the ‘Blue Economy and Women’s Economic Empowerment’ as an example of a transdisciplinary research undertaking. 

The final address was given by Her Excellency Dr Nomvuyo Nokwe, Secretary General of IORA, who highlighted the importance of youth development and how IORA has been contributing to this, followed by an open discussion which allowed the young scientists an opportunity to better understand the purpose of IORA and the opportunities provided through the association.

One of the key outcomes was a proposal that IORA consider establishing a youth network to help enhance capacity-building initiatives within the association, which the SA IORAG will put forward for consideration within IORA. A more comprehensive meeting report will be made available on the SA IORAG website. 

2. Ocean modelling 

The ocean modelling special session convened by Jennifer Veitch, Juliet Hermes, Issufo Halo (Cape Peninsula University of Technology) and Arshad Rawat (Ministry of Defence and Rodrigues Physical Oceanography Unit, Mauritius) was titled: ‘Identifying the potential for multidisciplinary and multi-institutional collaborations in ocean-modelling initiatives in the SWIO region’. The session intended to provide a platform for modellers and non-modellers alike to connect.

From an ocean dynamics point of view, the South Western Indian Ocean (SWIO) presents a particular challenge given that it hosts one of the world’s four most energetic boundary currents, namely the Agulhas Current. Observations in this region are extremely costly and often difficult to attain given the extreme ocean conditions. Models have filled this gap.

The aim of this special session was to forge multidisciplinary and multi-institutional collaborations as well as to identify ways in which models (existing and future) can be used to augment research and operational observing systems in the SWIO region.

The session started with overview presentations of the status of ocean modelling in various SWIO countries including Tanzania (Majuto Manyilizu, University of Dodoma), Mozambique (Fialho Nehama, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane), Reunion (Emmanuelle Cordier, University of Reunion) and South Africa (Dylan Bailey, Bayworld). Model applications were presented that included the use of global model products in Mauritius (Arshad Rawat), the use of an ocean model in investigating heat waves in the SWIO (Daneeja Mawren, University of Cape Town/SAEON) and South Africa’s operational modelling plans (Jennifer Veitch).

The presentations were followed by an open discussion that focused on common challenges and how stronger ties might be forged in order to make the most of all available resources. Indeed, the biggest success of this session was the connections established between ocean modelling groups throughout the SWIO region. A further key outcome was the commitment to developing a greater ocean modelling presence at the next WIOMSA symposium as well as to seek out joint proposals in order to facilitate regional collaborations.


Tania Moyikwa-Duba (who has been part of SAEON since 2009 when she was a Grade 9 learner in the Egagasini Node's school programme and recently completed her MSc), was involved in the WIO ECSN special session in her capacity as the South African coordinator. Together with her network colleagues, they reviewed the progress made by the network since its establishment at the previous WIOMSA conference in 2017.

From the 10 member states represented, this network has managed to gather a membership of about 304 early-career scientists, of which 70 come from South Africa. During this conference the network celebrated initiating the process of being fully embedded within its parent organisation WIOMSA.


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