ACEP Phakisa Ocean Cruises

By Ryan Palmer and Kerry Sink

The Department of Science & Technology (DST) and the Department of Environmental Affairs (Oceans & Coasts) identified ACEP, as a leading multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional programme, as one of the key platforms to be used in meeting Operation Phakisa aims. Operation Phakisa is a presidential initiative to unlock South Africa’s Ocean Economy.

Operation Phakisa was initiated in July 2014 to fast track the unlocking of the economic potential of South Africa’s coastal and offshore environments for the betterment of the countries citizens. The process identified key industry sectors which will be prioritised to drive future growth in the “Blue economy” namely: Oil & Gas, Mining, Aquaculture and Maritime Industries. Tourism is also receiving a new focus. Potential growth in these sectors along with the extended continental shelf claim, currently being adjudicated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, will require intensive Marine Spatial Planning (MSP). MSP is required to ensure all economic sectors are operated in an environmentally sustainable manner, such that none of the essential environmental goods and services provided by the oceans and coasts are compromised. In South Africa a key component of MSP, and cornerstone of marine ecosystem management, is the creation of a representative Marine Protected (MPA) Network. This means increasing the area of South Africa’s ocean territory under protection from the current 0.4% to 5% through the creation of 21 new MPAs. This will be followed by the identification of a further 5% for future protection. The 21 new MPA’s have since been proposed in the Government Gazette and are open for public comment.

Through strategic planning, including a partnership with DEA in the form of the ACEP/Phakisa Ocean cruises, ACEP aims to contribute to the aims of Operation Phakisa by helping to fill knowledge gaps in the data available to best position new protected areas as well as collect baseline data for monitoring purposes.

The ACEP funded Deep Secrets project and its sister project covering the Transkei Shelf, aim to provide the first visual survey for deep water habitats in five proposed MPAs: Robben Island, Browns Bank, Port Elizabeth Corals, Amathole offshore and the new offshore extension of the Dwesa MPA. Grab samples within the proposed Agulhas Mud MPA may provide data to characterise the mud habitats and help assess potential recovery after trawling ceases in this area. Towed cameras will be used to survey a submarine canyon off Port Elizabeth, deep cold water coral reefs and a potential chemosynthetic seep site.

ACEP’s Imida Frontiers Project aims to combine geophysical, oceanographic and ecological surveys with predictive modelling to gain comprehensive information on the spatial distribution of ecologically sensitive areas within the proposed new Amatole offshore MPA expansion. This exciting area includes the location of the first coelacanth capture. It also includes the shallowest records of deep, reef building cold water corals.

ACEP’s Spatial Solutions project will provide important information to support implementation and management of three proposed MPAs in KwaZulu-Natal; Protea Banks, Aliwal Shoal expansion and uThukela Banks. These three proposed MPAs include a diversity of habitats that will be sampled by ACEP’s Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and baited remote underwater video (BRUV) equipment.

Where the schedule of the ACEP Open Call allows, the ACEP marine platforms will also be used on other research associated with the Phakisa MPA network. The first of these surveys is on the West coast with a new research survey under development in co-operation with a mining company to investigate the fossilised yellowwood forest and its associated cold water corals in the proposed Namaqua Fossil Forest MPA.