Imida Project

Researching unique marine habitats in the Amathole region for sustainable management of marine living resources

Principal Investigator: Sven Kerwath (DAFF)

Swept by the swift, warm stream of the Agulhas current, the rough and uncompromising 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 originated from here and the first living 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 smallscale fisheries, but the area remains poorly researched and information on bathymetry, geology and ecology is scattered and scarce.
In this multidisciplinary ACEP project, Imida, we combine geological, oceanographic and ecological studies to investigate and characterise these poorly known marine habitats to feed into marine spatial planning and sustainable management of marine living resources.

Thus far, a multi-beam bathymetric survey has revealed several spectacular geological features, including paleo riverbeds, coastlines and submarine canyons. Dredge surveys yielded more than 1000 specimens of marine invertebrates, many of which are unknown to science. The first dedicated Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) survey in the area provided a visual account of previously unknown cold water coral reefs and rhodolith beds, colourful nodules of encrusting marine algae. The ROV dives discovered several unique habitats that are of importance for a number of ecologically sensitive marine fish and invertebrate species. Based on geological, ecological and oceanographic characteristics, the preliminary findings also
suggest that the area could still harbour individuals of the flagship species of this programme, the African coelacanth.