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12/03/2019

A major marine research conference on the Indian Ocean, held for the first time on the African continent, got under way at Nelson Mandela University on Monday.

The Second International Indian Ocean Expedition programme has attracted senior scientists from around the world to present and debate study findings affecting the goal of sustainably expanding the Indian Ocean’s blue economy and “avoiding a dead ocean”.

British high commissioner Nigel Casey hailed NMU’s ocean sciences centre of excellence, which hosted the event, and emphasised his government’s multimillion-rand support for research there.

“We’re here because we’re proud to have been on a journey with NMU,” he said.

“They’ve demonstrated vision and ambition.

“We believe that globally they are ahead of the curve.”

The UK is funding the R144m Soltice (Sustainable Oceans, Livelihoods and Food Security Through Increased Capacity in Ecosystem) project being run at NMU by South African oceanographer and UK-SA Bilateral Chair in Ocean Science and Marine Food Security professor Mike Roberts.

Casey said one of the key ocean challenges, plastic pollution, was receiving increased attention in the UK.

“It’s something people can grab onto and make choices about.

“At our cricket matches, for example, right now we’re getting rid of plastic beer glasses.”

Prof Peter Burkill, president of the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research in the UK, said the conference was important because the Indian Ocean was the most under-researched of the Earth’s oceans. “There are far more nations involved than when the first expedition was launched in 1957,” he said.

“We have much better tools, from undersea gliders to satellites. But there is still much we need to know.

“How resilient are our fisheries? What is the full impact of acidification from climate change on our oceans?

“If we’re going to overcome the huge problems facing the ocean we have to give it our best shot, and to do that we need to properly understand what’s going on.”

One of the problems was that the different types of phytoplankton, the tiny drifting plants that form the base of the marine food web, were shifting, he said.

“They are becoming smaller, offering less grazing opportunity for other species, so it is affecting fisheries.

“And we know it’s happening because of warming.”

Another problem was that the ocean water column was becoming more compartmentalised with a diminishing number of upwelling events where nutrients were pulled up from the seabed to enrich surface water and drive a healthy fishery sector, he said.

“We don’t know exactly what is causing this situation but we do know that climate change is happening.

“We need to know more.” Oceanographer Issufo Halo, a Mozambican based at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, said oceans were an important cog in the warming of the atmosphere as they amplified and reflected the sun’s radiation back into the atmosphere.

“More greenhouse gases absorbed by the oceans will be translated into warmer oceans and increased warming of the atmosphere,” he said.

Ocean temperature variations affected the density of the seawater and drove currents.

Understanding this dynamic and what would happen if it altered was key to understanding climate change and protecting the ocean, he said.

Oceans are an important cog in the warming of the atmosphere.

British high commissioner Nigel Casey praised the role played by the NMU ocean sciences centre

This article appeared in The Herald of 12 March 2019 written by Guy Rogers 
rogersg@tisoblackstar.co.za

To read more articles in the Herald, go to: https://www.heraldlive.co.za/

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