Imida: Frontiers

Principal Investigator: Sven Kerwath

Project Abstract:
Due to precarious sea conditions and currents, the Amathole area is a frontier for marine science, yet encompasses a number of unique marine habitats and species in close proximity: the shallowest cold water coral records from South Africa; mud, gravel, rocky reefs and canyon habitats and the terraces where the first living coelacanth was captured in 1938. The area includes reef for the endemic dageraad, red steenbras and seventy-four and the fluvial fan of the Kei River is one of the few spawning areas for dusky kob and white steenbras. Within the Presidential Initiative, Operation Phakisa, an offshore Marine Protected Area was proposed for this area to conserve sensitive marine ecosystems and endangered species yet species distribution and extent of the individual habitats have never been studied in detail. This multi-disciplinary project aims to combine geophysical, oceanographic and ecological surveys with predictive modelling to gain comprehensive information on the spatial distribution of ecologically sensitive areas. Hydro acoustic surveys in the 20 - 200 m depth range will provide fine-scale bathymetric maps. Grab, core and dredge sampling in combination with fishing and plankton sampling provide data on sediments and associated fauna. ROV surveys will assess invertebrate and fish diversity, validate habitats and provide quantitative data on benthic community structure in different ecosystem types. Combining sedimentological, geophysical and ecological data, predictive geo-statistical models will be developed to determine distribution of marine fauna and its habitats throughout the region. This information will be used to classify habitats and identify sensitive areas, information of direct value for the integrated Marine Spatial Planning in the Eastern Cape and for monitoring and management of the proposed MPA in terms of its biodiversity and fishery management objectives, while building capacity in marine species.