Change the world


We have to work out how to share our oceans between a mounting number of stakeholders in a manner that values and conserves our rich marine resources. Professor Mandy Lombard is finding a way, Heather Dugmore reports.

The year 2020 was an incredibly successful one for Professor Mandy Lombard. She received a Research Excellence award from the Vice Chancellor, was given a B2 NRF rating, her SARChI Chair in Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) was renewed for a further five years, her NRF Communities of Practice grant for MSP in Algoa Bay was also renewed for a further two years, she was awarded the ACEP (African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme) grant to work in the newly proclaimed uThukela Banks Marine Protected Area, and was asked by the Nairobi Convention to write the marine spatial planning strategy for the Western Indian Ocean.

“This recognition is very valuable to me; it gives my projects sustainability and my postgraduate students continuity and security,” says Prof Lombard.

Over the next five years, her goal is to complete her current Chair’s projects, make sure the research is written and published and that all her students graduate and have their papers published.

Prof Lombard explains that the Chair applies a transdisciplinary and trans-institutional systems approach to marine spatial planning, looking at all the different sectors that use or have a stake in Algoa Bay – from industry to conservation – and working with them to come up with management recommendations in order to zone areas for different activities.

“We partner with Rhodes University’s Professor Rosemary Dorrington, who holds the SARChI Chair in Marine Natural Products, and we are now working with resource economists, notably ecological and environmental resource economist Professor James Blignaut from the University of Stellenbosch, to value marine ecosystem services.

“There are so many marine ecosystem services, from the obvious one – fisheries – to the phytoplankton that produce oxygen, to marine tourism, including diving and whale watching, to the cultural activities of diverse groups that value the ocean in different ways.

“We are developing a case study in Algoa Bay to show how system dynamics models can be very effectively used in marine spatial planning. A PhD candidate, Estee Vermeulen from the Faculty of Science,  focused on the development of these models for the bay; it’s the first time anyone outside of the USA has applied these models specifically to marine spatial planning.”

Marine scientists under the sea Lorien Pichegru, Mandy Lombard and Gwen Penry in Sodwana

The three year NRF ACEP (African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme) grant awarded to Prof Lombard through the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) is for research in the uThukela Marine Protected Area (MPA) between Richards Bay and Durban, proclaimed in 2019.

Prof Lombard explains that the reason for choosing this MPA is because it is located in a highly significant and unique biodiversity area, influenced by powerful physical processes (the Tugela River and the Agulhas Current), prized for natural resources that underpin thriving line fishing activities and support small-scale fishers and rural communities, and for the mineral resources that have attracted significant mining and oil and gas interests.

“We have oceanographers and fish and reef people all working together and collaborating with the South African Wild Trust’s WILDOCEAN programme, in partnership with Oxford University. We have funding for 11 master’s students and we were able to select five suitable candidates, all of whom were black – four women and one man – as equity is an important part of the programme.

“We started this project at the beginning of 2021 and completed our first research cruise off the east coast of South Africa in June (last year) on WILDOCEAN’s marine research vessel, the Angra Pequena. We collected plankton water column samples, as our goal is to establish baseline surveys all the way from plankton to coral to the top predators, such as sharks. This way, we can go back in a few years’ time and assess how everything is looking compared to the baseline studies, and this will give us a good idea whether the MPA is making a difference or what further action is required.

Powder blue surgeonfish

Urgent protection for our sharks and rays

With funding from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, the SARChI Chair is partnering with WILDOCEANS to campaign for marine protected areas (MPAs) for sharks and rays. These top predators are being decimated by fisheries; if they are wiped out, the whole marine ecosystem is threatened. “We are working to bring about South African legislation to protect them as much as possible,” says Prof Lombard. “The project started in August 2020 and ends in April 2022. We will provide recommendations for additional MPAs to add to those in the current portfolio, which make up only 5% of our continental marine area.”

Students on board the Angra Paquena

Contact information
Dr Mandy Lombard
Research Associate
Tel: 27 44 343 1856