News » National Marine Week Ocean Hero - Dr Francesca Porri

Our Ocean Hero for National Marine Week 2020 - Dr Francesca Porri

In celebration of National Marine Week, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) ran an Ocean Health blog, with QA-style guest content to put a spotlight on the main threats our oceans are facing – and on the organisations that are doing something about it. NRF-SAIAB scientists contributed to this blog, sharing information about their marine research projects on climate change and how they are addressing this issue.

This is what our Ocean Hero and Senior Scientist, Dr Francesca Porri had to say about Climate Change:

Dr Francesca Porri – Senior Scientist at SAIAB

  1. 1.       Provide us with a context of our marine resources in South Africa.

I think the major threats to the ocean and coasts in South Africa do not differ much from other parts of the world and mostly derive from the unsustainable use of the sea, its resources and the lack of a long-term vision. These overuses (or abuses) stem from individual practices as well as policies that often are not science-derived and are exacerbated by the increasing aggressive and extreme effects of climate change. One of the major challenges for South Africa is that the uncontrolled exploitation of resources (resulting in overfishing, water and plastic pollution, coastal degradation and extinction) is likely to impact the poorest sectors of the economy, hence challenging further food security to local communities that rely for subsistence on the products of the sea. The full setting of the Blue Economy (through the Operation Phakisa), the recent increase in marine protected areas  and close local attention to accelerate the achievement of  the UN Sustainable Development  Goals (poverty relief, food security and gender equality included) will hopefully lead to a sustainable blue growth.

  1. 2.       Explain to us the impacts of climate change on our oceans and marine life.

Linking to the threats above, the biggest impacts that derive are the loss of natural habitats and biodiversity. Considering that maintenance of life and biodiversity are central to all ecosystem processes and contribute directly to human welfare, any loss of natural resources has underlying impacts on of our society. This is especially true for the most vulnerable sectors that often closely rely on marine resources and the sea for subsistence, cultural heritage and well-being.

  1. 3.       Provide an overview of the projects led by SAIAB to address, study or mitigate the impacts of climate change on the marine ecosystem.

While based at the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), there are plenty opportunities to address natural processes, effects of anthropogenic pressure on resources and responses by marine species and ecosystems to natural and altered environmental conditions. Among the topics that we tackle within the Coastal and Ocean Sciences Team (COST) at SAIAB, are investigating the physiological responses of early stage and adult marine species to the stress induced by changing temperature in the sea; determining the possible nursery role of urban coastal armouring for fish and invertebrates; using principles of eco-engineering to improve the characteristics of coastal urban environments and enhance biodiversity.

  1. 4.       List some simple ways in which consumers/ South Africans can help minimise or mitigate the impacts of climate change on the coastal and marine environment.

This question is so easy to reply to: REDUCE the USE of SINGLE USE PLASTIC in your life! BE creative and challenge yourself! You can easily educate yourself on how much better you can live with less (plastic) waste.

  1. 5.       What does ocean sustainability/ ocean health mean to you?

I think that a large chunk of the human population has shifted to easy, quick access to any (and in large quantity) commodity, sourced from anywhere. Another large chunk of the world citizens lives on the verge of poverty, being exposed to food insecurity.  This dual controversy does not spare the sea and its resources. Aiming to a sustainable relation by humans with the sea, as advocated by many blue economy programmes worldwide, should lead to healthy and diverse oceans that ensure long term functioning and resilience.

  1. 6.       In your opinion, and within the context of climate change, what role can/is sustainable fishing (and seafood) playing in mitigating the impacts on our oceans?

The limited and sustainable use of sea resources can certainly help mitigating the overfishing that our seas are subjected to. This shift in sustainable use has recently also been proposed as helping with the reduction of carbon emissions, linked to ocean warming and acidification. Responsible fishing/farming of seafood hence seems the preferred option. Given the extreme and multiple pressures our resources are subjected to, a further shift in diet preference (opting for a more plant-based choice of protein intake) by humans would be my favoured path.

  1. 7.       As an Ocean Hero this Marine Month, please provide us with a quote or educational tip in celebration of our oceans and ocean heritage.

Rediscover the cultural marine heritage in our own individual lives, to empower ourselves, to respect, maintain and hand over to the future generations a healthy and alive ocean.

The following imagery show climate change impacting the marine environment and the work that our research teams are doing to address the impacts.

Deployment of eco-engineered tiles to monitor intertidal biodiversity on artificial walls of a harbour.

Monitoring of recruitment of benthic invertebrates at an urban site.