SA Agulhas II embarks on African-led research cruise

13 October 2017 - 14:00 By Claire Keeton
The SA Agulhas II. File photo.
The SA Agulhas II. File photo.
Image: Supplied

Scientists from South Africa‚ Mozambique‚ Kenya‚ Nigeria and Egypt will be on board the SA Agulhas II when it departs on the second international Indian Ocean research expedition from Durban.

On Friday‚ Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa said‚ from the ship berthed in Cape Town harbour: “We mark a significant milestone here today because this will be the first multidisciplinary African-led scientific research cruise.”

The SA Agulhas II will leave Durban on Wednesday and cruise up the east coast of Africa to Tanzania as part of South Africa’s contribution to the international research expedition.

Researchers from India‚ Italy and Belgium will also join the research cruise.

A programme under the United Nations Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission‚ the expedition aims to carry out oceanographic and atmospheric research and will run several cruises until 2020.

The SA Agulhas II‚ dedicated to singer Miriam Makeba‚ is a research and polar supply vessel built in 2012 with state of the art technology.

Molewa said: “She has performed well over the last few years‚ with focused work in the Southern Ocean and around Antarctica. This will be her first voyage into the warm waters of the East African coast.

“With the advantage of proximity and the commitment to research and science in Antarctica‚ South Africa invests considerably in Antarctica and sub-Antarctica programmes.”

The South African National Antarctic Programme has bases in Antarctica and on Marion and Gough islands in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Molewa said data collection on this cruise will include physics‚ chemistry‚ geology‚ biology and biodiversity.

South African Ashley Johnson is the chief scientist and six of his colleagues will lead research in these fields.

“We will be building our capacity through doing ‘science sailing’ all the way to Tanzania‚” he said

Molewa said the British high commissioner had this week commended South Africa for its research‚ which was far ahead of some developed countries.

The UN Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission regards the limited environmental data about the Indian Ocean as a matter of global concern.

Molewa said: “This is extraordinary if one considers just how important the Indian Ocean is to ecology‚ shipping‚ marine commerce and the like.”

This expedition is taking place more than 50 years since the first in 1961.

The expedition also aims to assist Indian Ocean countries to conserve ocean integrity‚ find ways to unlock ocean economies and guard against threats such as storm surges and coastal erosion.

Molewa said: “For example‚ I have noted there is a growing interest in finding medicinal and pharmaceutical discoveries from deep and shallow parts of the ocean.”

She said South Africa’s Operation Phakisa Oceans Economy programme‚ launched in 2014‚ aimed to unlock sustainable development.

Government estimates that‚ by 2033‚ oceans could contribute R177-billion to South Africa’s gross domestic product and create more than one million jobs. Molewa said the contribution over the past two years was R24.6 billion.

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