Vivienne Dames

MSc candidate
Vivienne Dames


An assessment of ecosystem condition of high-latitude coral reefs in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and southern Mozambique.

The aim of this project is to develop functional trait-based indicators of marine ecosystem condition for Southern Africa’s high latitude coral reefs and assess the effectiveness of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park MPAs and Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a valuable heritage site in South Africa and is home to the only coral reefs in South Africa. Reefs are showing evidence of overfishing, with significant ecosystem level consequences for reef condition, and there is a dire need for multispecies fishery-independent indicators to evaluate fishing impacts on coral reefs. There is a progressive shift in the type of information desired by management from population-level stock assessments to ecosystem-based approaches that encompass system-wide interactions and effects. Functional ecology will identify links and severity of specific disturbances allowing for improved management practices. Traditional metrics alone cannot describe the broad range of changes which may occur in impacted and protected marine habitats, thus there is a need to describe ecosystem functioning. To assess ecosystem condition there will be an integration of stereo-BRUV footage to analyse ichthyofauna communities, photo-quadrats to analyse macrobenthic communities, transect measure analysis to describe broad habitat data and relief, and logged environmental data which will include climate change data. This approach allows for functional trait-based analysis and assessment of ecosystem functioning. The metrics developed for ecosystem condition can then be used to infer which disturbances are most prevalent for each site of high latitude coral reef. For example, if fish size or abundance of apex predators are the most impacted then one can infer a poaching impact, but if the benthic community is more impacted then it is possible that it could be environmentally driven. Overall this project covers four different zones of high latitude coral reefs, each an indicator of different degrees of anthropogenic impacts (St Lucia Sanctuary Zone = Pristine baseline site; St Lucia/Maputaland Restricted Zone = Intermediate levels of disturbance; Maputaland Sanctuary Zone = Suspected Impacted site; Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve = Intermediate levels of disturbance). Each Zone has been represented by 35 samples, totalling 140 hours of Stereo-BRUV footage. To date a species file of 409 species has been generated.

Registered: Rhodes University, Department of Ichthyology
Supervisor: Dr Anthony Bernard and Dr Camilla Floros