Deep Secrets: the outer shelf and slope ecosystems of the Eastern Cape

Principal Investigator: Kerry Sink

Project Abstract:
This project aims to develop multi-disciplinary offshore research capacity and knowledge to support improved management of poorly studied outer shelf, shelf edge and upper bathyal ecosystems of the Agulhas Ecoregion. The study area is Knysna to Port Alfred in the 200 - 700 m depth range, within an Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area (EBSA), a Focus Area for Offshore Protection and the Phakisa Proposed Port Elizabeth Coral Marine Protected Area (MPA). Research includes geoscience, oceanography, biodiversity, molecular research, Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and fisheries science (4 resource species). Existing multi-beam and seismic data will be collated and analysed to refine maps of canyons, deep hard grounds and outcrops that may be colonised by corals. Oceanography will focus on the ecosystem response to upwelling and investigate linkages between Agulhas Current dynamics and upwelling along the south-eastern shelf break. The team will use benthic cameras to shed light on several unsampled habitats including cold water coral reefs; Agulhas gravel, sandy shelf edge and canyons and a possible chemosynthetic cold seep. The potential seep, identified from museum records, will be explored to determine whether these unreported ecosystems occur here and if so, to plan for their protection and further study through novel microbial research. The imagery collected will provide for quantitative community analysis, biodiversity target setting and exciting footage to engage the public in understanding science and MPAs. The project includes a new mentorship initiative called “Women in MOcean: addressing equity and gender imbalance in marine research, policy and management”. Management and policy links include mapping of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems and EBSAs, data for Strategic Environmental Assessments MSP and MPAs, ecosystem listing and the development of improved practice in the mining, petroleum and demersal fishing sectors.