Over 500 local and international marine scientists and biologists for whom the wellbeing of the ecosystems and ocean resources of the Western Indian Ocean are a priority gathered in Port Edward in South Africa at the end of October for the biennial Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) 9th Scientific Symposium.
The Western Indian Ocean sustains countless coastal communities and populations – from small subsistence fishermen, to large ocean-going ships. Fourteen African countries have coastlines in this ocean, stretching from Madagascar to Egypt, and down to Cape Agulhas in South Africa. Coral reefs along the coastline of Kenya, Tanzania, and northern Mozambique form a large fringing reef complex that is amongst the largest in the world.
“Our ocean space is a resource-rich and relatively pristine environment. The ocean represents a significant asset for current and future generations of South Africans. The use of various marine resources in our ocean space has increased over time and significant potential remains for the unlocking of further economic development opportunities,” said the Chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, Mr Sipho Mkhize, who officially opened the Symposium.
According to its official website (operationphakisa.gov.za) the idea for Operation Phakisa was born when President Jacob Zuma undertook a state visit to Malaysia in 2013. He was introduced to the Big Fast Results methodology, through which the Malaysian government achieved significant government and economic transformation within a very short time – addressing national key priority areas such as poverty, crime and unemployment. With the support of the Malaysian government, the Big Fast Results approach was adapted to the South African context. To highlight the urgency of delivery the approach was renamed to Operation Phakisa – “phakisa” meaning “hurry up” in Sesotho.
Operation Phakisa is a results-driven approach to development involving setting clear plans and targets, on-going monitoring of progress and making these results public. In July of last year the President announced that the first implementation of Operation Phakisa will be led by the Department of Environmental Affairs and will focus on unlocking the economic potential of South Africa’s oceans, which are estimated to have the potential to contribute up to R177 billion to the GDP by 2033, compared to R54 billion in 2010.
According to CSIR coastal systems research group leader and scientist, Dr Louis Celliers, the aim of the symposium was to showcase the growing scientific capacity of countries in the Western Indian Ocean region, and to devise ways and means to use this capacity to better manage our coastal and marine resources to the benefit of communities. The CSIR was a proud host of the conference, along with the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board.
“Coastal and marine science is strong and healthy in countries bordering the Western Indian Ocean. The question is how we put this wealth of capacity and knowledge to good use. How can the products of science make us better custodians of the incredible diversity and abundance of ecosystem services of the WIO?” asked Celliers.
“The CSIR is dedicated to contributing to an understanding of the ocean environment through its many related research groups that include coastal systems, ocean and climate systems, ecosystem services and coastal and marine remote sensing,” said CSIR Group Executive: Operations, Mr Laurens Cloete.
The Symposium was convened under the theme; “Knowledge – improving lives in ocean and coastal systems”. In line with its reputation as the major hub for exchange and dissemination of information, the 9th Symposium comprised a range of presentations and sessions from keynote presentations to oral and poster presentations. Six keynote presentations, 215 oral presentations, and over 250 poster presentations were delivered during the week. A total of 12 special sessions on different topics were held on 30 October. Two new books were also launched at the Symposium.
“The WIOMSA Symposium is one of the most exciting and unique fora where coastal and marine science meets management and policy,” said Celliers.
“South Africa is committed to the protection of our oceans. Monitoring the ocean and coastal environment over the last 20 years has grown to be a significantly greater practice than ever before. This is due to the ever increasing understanding of the importance of the oceanic environment to South Africa. A network of marine protected areas is extremely important to increase ecosystem resilience, maintain genetic biodiversity and for our ability to cope with and adapt to the greatest threat facing human kind: climate change,” said Mkhize.
The vision and mission of WIOMSA is to study and care for the Western Indian Ocean, combining science and local indigenous knowledge to promote healthy, functioning ecosystems, and protect ocean resources for all users and stakeholders. WIOMSA aims to further community involvement and conservation, connecting people and the environment as together we face the oncoming threat of climate change in a warming ocean.