Marine life study gives insight into state of sea

They quietly go about bringing change – through the advancement of medicine, empowering students, saving the environment or helping communities. A pioneering group of Nelson Mandela University academics has been honoured at the institution’s Research, Teaching and Engagement Awards. 


Zoology professor Pierre Pistorius│Marine life study gives insight into state of sea

Zoology professor Pierre Pistorius was named Nelson Mandela University’s top Researcher of the Year for 2018
Zoology professor Pierre Pistorius was named Nelson Mandela University’s top Researcher of the Year for 2018

Marine top predators like seals, penguins and other seabirds are often referred to as the sentinels of the sea, as their behaviour provides important insights into the state of our seas.

If there are changes in their diet – or the distances they travel to find food – researchers are alerted to critical shifts in the sea, like rising sea temperatures or the depletion of certain species.

For zoology professor Pierre Pistorius – who has just been named Nelson Mandela University’s top Researcher of the Year for 2018 – monitoring the behaviour of these relativelyaccessible sea predators helps to fuel his strong curiosity to find out the many “unknowns” associated with the marine environment.

“I use my work on marine top predators to better understand ecosystem changes. A lot of seabirds are threatened because of their interaction with fisheries,” Pistorius, who heads up the university’s Marine Apex Predator Research Unit, said.

Much of his research takes place in near-pristine environments, like the remote SubAntarctic Prince Edward Islands in the Southern Indian Ocean, where he and his team of postgraduate students gain important insights into how marine ecosystems work in areas relatively undisturbed by human activity.

“We have just received significant funds from the National Research Foundation’s South African National Antarctic Programme for a further three years’ research at Marion Island [one of the Prince Edward Islands].”

For the Marion Island project, Pistorius is studying 14 different species of seabirds and seals “in an attempt to use their distribution and behaviour to identify ecologically-important areas in the Southern Indian Ocean”.

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