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The newly launched marine research initiative infrastructure will provide direct data to grow the blue economy, especially in the key sectors of fishing, aquaculture, oil and gas, shipping, mining and coastal development. The array of sensors and research platforms will place South Africa and its scientists at the forefront of climate and global change research in the coastal zone.

The blue economy has been identified as the next major contributor to South Africa's GDP, with the potential to create up to a million direct jobs and contribute up to R177 billion to the country's economy by 2030.

Speaking at the launch of the Shallow Marine and Coastal Research Infrastructure (SMCRI) at Nelson Mandela University’s Ocean Sciences Campus on Friday (19 October), Director-General of Science and Technology, Dr Phil Mjwara, said the response to global change was one of the grand challenges the DST has identified.

Department of Science and Technology director-general, Phil Mjwarha (centre), flanked by Nelson Mandela University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Engagement, Prof Andrew Leitch (right) and Prof Derrick Swartz (left), and colleagues from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the foundation’s South African Earth Observatory Network (SAEON), cuts the ribbon to the SMCRI Central Coordination Unit based at the university’s Ocean Sciences Campus.

"South Africa is well positioned to lead research on the continent in terms of understanding and projecting changes to the marine environment, the impact of these changes, and mitigation to limit their long-term effects," said Dr Mjwara, emphasising the need for the country to take full advantage of the marine wealth it has.

He added that mitigating climate change effects would go a long way towards achieving South Africa's blue economy imperatives.

"In the development of the 'blue economy', the exploitation of living (fisheries, aquaculture, tourism) and non-living marine resources (oil and gas, minerals, energy) should be on a scale that is socially and economically justifiable and ecologically sustainable," he said.

Based at the Nelson Mandela University's Oceans Sciences Campus, launched a year ago, SMCRI seeks to improve policy-makers' understanding of climate change in South Africa.

This against the background that ongoing pollution, climate change and other factors threaten the world oceans, which has a direct impact on changing weather patterns.

SMCRI – an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the National Research Foundation (NRF) and Mandela University – will research the country's shallow coastline.

The SMCRI is one of 13 large research infrastructures developed as part of the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR).

The research infrastructure was established in 2016 and has developed an array of instruments and physical research platforms around the coasts of South Africa and its sub-Antarctic islands to collect long-term reliable data for scientific research. 

Mandela University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Engagement, Prof. Andrew Leitch, said the SMCRI was in line with transdisciplinary work that the institution had undertaken in the ocean sciences over the years.

"Two years ago, the university pulled all its marine research into one unit – the Centre for Coastal and Marine Research and we are happy to report that students and academics from all faculties are involved in that – aligned with our transdisciplinary approach," he said.

Prof Leitch added that the newly launched research infrastructure would support the work done in one of the institution's newly redefined research themes, one of which is ocean and coastal sciences.

Also addressing the launch, the NRF CEO, Dr Molapo Qhobela, said the power of producing knowledge through research infrastructures should not be underestimated. Oceans were a source of income, and a means of importing goods, supporting the country's economy.

Dr Qhobela welcomed the partnership to establish the SMCRI, expressing pleasure at seeing a group of people coming together to share expertise towards a common endeavour.

The SMCRI is managed by the Coastal Node of the NRF's South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), which based in Port Elizabeth, and the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), which is based in Grahamstown.

For media enquiries, please contact Veronica Mohapeloa (DST) at 0834005750 or Zandile Mbabela (Mandela Uni) at 078 164 0449.

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