NMMU and the national environment department signed an agreement yesterday which gives the Eastern Cape a unique opportunity to contribute to government’s coastal and marine policy. The department has traditionally enjoyed a strong relationship with UCT because of the focus on fisheries on the west coast.
But the department is increasingly recognising the importance of in-shore and coastal areas and their direct affect on human populations, and NMMU’s research leadership in this sector is now being recognised, department spokesman Dr Monde Mayekiso said.
Mayekiso, who is deputy director-general of the department’s oceans’ and coastal branch, told The Herald at the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signing at the university, that while his team included a number of marine biologists, “we could probably do with ten times that number.
“We recognise we need knowledge to protect our natural resources and to protect society from pollution and from hazards posed by climate change for instance. So we are formalising our relationship with this university to allow us to access their knowledge base, and to provide support for us both.”
One of the research areas the department will be seeking to tap into is planning. The National Planning Commission, recently established to guide the country’s development trajectory, requires strong environmental including marine and coastal input. In making its case, the department will be tapping into the strong planning research in the metro, he said.
Related to this, NMMU deputy vice-chancellor Prof Thoko Mayekiso correct said one of the first studies to be launched out of the MOU will focus on “placing a value on the coastal and ocean environments as a national asset”.
“It will be the first such study done in South Africa. It will provide essential information on understanding the contribution that the oceans and coasts environments make to the South African economy.
“The study will consider traditional economic streams like sea trade and tourism but it will also endeavour to put a value on ecosystem support services like the carbon sequestration role the ocean plays.”
SA does not have a national program to monitor coastal pollution, and this is the basis for the second study being planned, she said.
“Larger cities do undertake some monitoring protocols but these are not nationally co-ordinated or standardised. There is no quality assurance methodology.
“Our study therefore envisages the establishment of a National Coastal Pollution Reference Laboratory at NMMU. This laboratory will primarily serve the regional municipalities.”
Such facilities require a large initial investment in capital intensive chemical analysis equipment, so the partnership with the department is key, she said.
“Creating this lab at the NMMU will meet the management needs of the department’s oceans’ and coastal branch by documenting the situation in this area. It is also hoped that this lab will stimulate a research emphasis in oceans and coastal sciences.”