SAIAB News » South Africa enters a new era of deep-sea research
ACEP's Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) has increased South Africa’s capacity to undertake observations in areas previously too deep to be monitored by SCUBA. The ROV has the potential to place South Africa at the forefront of marine physical and biodiversity sciences regionally and globally by generating new cutting-edge knowledge of the largely unexplored and unknown offshore marine environment that will be on par with the rest of the world.
ACEP conducted an expedition to Sodwana Bay in May 2011 to test the capacity of the new ROV in exploring the deep water environment that is home to the iconic coelacanth. Known originally only from fossil records and thought to have died out 60 - 70 million years ago, the first proof of the living coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae), was discovered in 1938 by the curator of the East London Museum, Miss Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, when a specimen was caught by a trawler fishing off East London. Professor J.L.B. Smith identified and described the specimen as a “living fossil”. ACEP was initiated after the discovery of live coelacanths in 2000 off Sodwana Bay by recreational SCUBA divers.
In the spirit of research collaboration which underpins ACEP, more than 16 scientists, ROV pilots and technicians from SAIAB, the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), Oceans and Coasts (DEA), the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Ezemvelo KwaZulu Natal Wildlife (EKZNW), iSimangaliso Wetland Authority and Triton Dive Lodge participated in the expedition. Rik Nulens, Belgian coelacanth enthusiast and an honorary Research Associate of SAIAB joined the expedition. Since 1994 Nulens has collated a comprehensive database of coelacanth literature: see 'Biology & Behavior' on http://www.dinofish.com
The success of the expedition was documented on film - seven coelacanths were filmed by the 'Seaeye Falcon' ROV on two separate days of diving off the Angra Pequena. In addition, valuable habit surveys, fish and benthic invertebrate fauna were assessed and sampled at depths ranging from 50 m to 120 m. This multi-institutional inter- and trans-disciplinary research expedition proved that South Africa now has the platform and the capacity to conduct deep-sea observational research. (see video clip.wmv - 6.52MB)
ACEP is a joint project between the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF). The National Research Foundation acts as the implementing agency for the DST.