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Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy, delivers opening address at Marine Science Symposium, Durban Southern African

20 June 2022

Allow me to begin by greeting all the esteemed guests present and thank our hosts the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board as well as the Local Organising and Steering Committees for this invitation to address this important conference which occurs during a month in which World Oceans Day was celebrated on 8 June under the theme of Revitalising Collective Action for the Ocean.   

Your invitation is all the more special because I am aware that this conference is an important networking event  for many younthful scientists who are with us today, and I take this opportunity to wish you everything of the best this Youth Month.

Let me also acknowledge that our Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment has almost thirty scientists present here, both those who are young and those who remain young at heart!

This conference, being held for the first time in five years, also comes midway through the second year of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021 – 2030.

The UN Decade aims to provide a framework to ensure that ocean science can effectively support actions taken by countries such as ours to manage the ocean, and more particularly achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  This will be achieved through the creation of new foundations, across the science-policy interface, to strengthen the management of the ocean and coasts for the benefit of both people and nature.

While the central purpose of this Symposium is to provide a forum for discussion and the exchange of ideas, experiences, and knowledge on coastal and marine issues in the South African region, it will also serve  to assess the advancement of marine scientific research in Southern Africa and its application to coastal management as well as  to identify priority themes and areas for future marine science research and planning.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

South Africa’s coastline stretches more than 3 000 km from Namibia on the Atlantic coast to Mozambique on the Indian Ocean.  As a country with a relatively large ocean Exclusive Economic Zone we belong to a select group of countries where we can claim the full extent of this zone without bumping into another country’s jurisdiction. Beyond this exclusive zone, South Africa lies in a relatively lonely position of large open ocean between ourselves and Brazil, Australia and Antarctica. This is an area rich with opportunity for us.

Consequently South Africa is in the final phases of developing our Oceans Economy Masterplan which focuses on developing several sectors of the Oceans Economy namely: Marine Transport; Marine Manufacturing including Boat/Ship building and Ship/Rig repairs; Aquaculture; Fisheries; Offshore Oil and Gas; Small Harbours Development; Coastal and Marine Tourism.

Currently the oceans economy supports about 400 000 jobs in areas across the existing marine economic sectors of shipping, associated construction, tourism and fisheries. The intention of the Master Plan is to maintain and grow the existing and potentially new areas as well.   With the pandemic many of these sectors including shipping and tourism have been impacted, not only in South Africa but globally. The Master Plan must seek to stabilise these impacted sectors and then facilitate the job and revenue growth potential.

In South Africa jobs linked to the ocean are not limited to small-scale fishers and cooperatives and industrial-scale fishing industries, but can also be found in boat building and repair, the building of new harbours, aquaculture, offshore oil and gas exploration, and tourism.

As we highlight the significance of the Oceans Economy Masterplan its important to recognise that these same economic activities across the world’s oceans are placing increasing pressure on the important ecosystem services performed by our oceans.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report articulates the critical linkages across oceans, atmosphere and functioning of the earth system.

The report issues some dire warnings for global food security, carbon absorption and increasing ocean acidification which are are placing further pressure on marine ecosystems, reducing their resilience. This in turn places hundreds of millions of livelihoods at stake.

Robust marine protection is therefore important to safeguard the resources on which countries, industries, and civil society all depend.

South Africa is a signatory of the  United Nations Conservation on Biological Diversity, known as the CBD, and currently has fifteen and a half percent of our marine and coastal waters are under protection, offering support to ninety percent of our marine ecosystem types.

This compares favourably with our terrestrial protected areas. Currently sixteen and a half percent of our land is under some form of protection. 

South Africa is  increasing both terrestrial and  marine protection at a pace at which our country can afford based on our priorities, circumstances, and capabilities. However our target is to increase our protected estate by half a percent per annum and achieve about twenty eight percent of land and sea under protection by 2036.

The sustainable use of our ocean resources must be guided by the best available science.

Since taking office, I have received many letters from academics about a variety of topics, controversial ocean seismic surveys, the access of traditional fishers and exercise of cultural rights in Marine Protected Areas and about ideas on the many best ways to protect marine species such as penguins, whales and corals.

Let me pause for a moment on the issue of ocean-based seismic surveys, as these present a number of areas of possible research to the science community.

Interestingly, these surveys have been undertaken along our coastline since the 1950s. As a result, South Africa has contributed significantly to the body of foundational science on the issue. 

Renewed public interest in this matter has prompted our Department  to develop a research programme on seismic surveys and their impacts in our local waters. This year we will analyse the footprint of seismic surveys that have already taken place in South Africa’s Ocean Exclusive Economic Zone and how these have been impacted on by ocean currents, temperature and features such as canyons and sea mounts, and how the seismic blasts travel through the water column under different physical conditions.  Initial research will also look for observable impacts in ocean areas where seismic surveys have already taken place over the last few years.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Among the themes to be discussed in the coming days include Strategies for Adaptive Management, insights into ecological and biological functions and services, climate change adaptation, changing research fields as well as people and the marine environment.

I welcome your aim to bring science to the people and to incorporate your work in governance issues. Ultimately, environmental governance, including ocean and coastal, is about managing people and their actions.

This should in no way detract from the value of the basic science of data collection.  As the climate continues to change because of the actions of human-beings, we need to increase our body of scientific knowledge, including determining whether the ocean is getting warmer, the currents are speeding up or slowing down, what the rate of loss of oceans biodiversity is, and what the rate of increase of decrease is of particularly plastic pollution.  

All of these affect governance interventions.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Much of the Indian Ocean remains unknown and unexplored; with the United Nations noting that the lack of basic long-term environmental information in the Indian Ocean is of international concern, particularly for countries that require such for country-specific beneficial purposes. From an ocean hazard perspective, sustained long-term environmental data collection can aid in mitigating risk and improving environmental management.

Innovation in science, technology and management will be required to fully appreciate our ocean and coasts opportunities.

Among the innovative developments under our National Ocean and Coastal Information Management System (OCIMS) in the recent past has been the development of Decision Support Tools that use satellite information collected by the South African National Space Agency for use by a number of government departments and entities. Some of these include Integrated Vessel Tracking, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Operations at Sea and Rescue Tools.

The tool to monitor Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) is crucial to the fishing  industry.  This natural phenomenon is particularly common in the productive West Coast’s Benguela upwelling region and can lead to mass mortalities of entire marine communities, including mass walkouts of rock lobsters. These events can potentially have major environmental and societal implications, with knock-on effects on coastal economies.

The Department will continue to support marine science programmes, together with our sister Department  of Higher Education, Science and Innovation and a range of universities’ partnerships.

Currently we operate and maintain the National Research Fleet which has four research ships and complements the more coastal shallow water programmes operated by the  South African Aquatic Biodiversity Institute (SAIAB) and the South African Earth Observation Network (SAEON).

I hope the issues I have highlighted today will inspire the many young aspiring  scientists to understand both the importance and the urgency of marine research today.

To the South African Network for Coastal and Oceanic Research (SANCOR) congratulations for planning and hosting this 17th Southern African Marine Science Symposium. It is a much needed gathering at a time when high quality scientific research  is needed now more than ever to guide the sustainable use of our oceans and the protection of the important ecosystem services they provide.

I thank You



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