SAIAB Features » ACEP Imida

On the edge: exploring frontiers of marine science on South Africa’s eastern shelf

Palinurus gilchristi multibeam bathymetry map Petrus rupestris


The seas over the narrow continental shelf between the Great Fish and Kei rivers have remained a frontier for marine science in South Africa. The first and the shallowest cold water coral records from South Africa both originate from here and the first coelacanth was captured in this area by a trawler in 1938. The shelf is a hotspot for endemic marine species whose distribution is already showing shifts as a result of climatic changes. The site is also of considerable interest for submarine mining and small-scale fisheries.

Until recently, remote observation (ROV) work in the area has not been feasible. SAIAB's new coastal research vessel, Phakisa, has the technical ability to allow ROV work in strong current conditions off South Africa's eastern shelf.

Underwater imagery captured from the ROV dives during the ACEP Imida Project cruise earlier this year has opened up a completely new window to the shelf edge. Based on ecological and oceanographic characteristics, the preliminary findings suggest that the area could still harbour individuals of the flagship species of this programme, the African coelacanth.

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bongo netsA pair of bongo nets being retrieved onto the RV Ellen Khuzwayo  CTD and rosette