Research Platforms

The national research facilities of the NRF provide unique and cutting-edge research platforms through a network of distributed institutions.

These facilities support research of strategic importance and provide access to “big science” infrastructure to national and international researchers and research.

They contribute to the NRF strategic goal of growing a representative research workforce through focused human capacity development initiatives. It is through these facilities that South Africa can compete and cooperate effectively with international counterparts in the selected strategic research areas.  NRF Strategy 2020 p. 19

Science Platforms at SAIAB include: 


Marine Platforms

African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme

The African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP) is a research platform which provides access to research infrastructure (e.g. ship time, coastal craft, remote operated vehicles, etc.) and associated funding to the research community to undertake research along the east coast of South Africa. ACEP is a flagship programme of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF).

Acoustic Tracking Array Platform (ATAP)

The Acoustic Tracking Array Platform (ATAP) is a collaborative marine science programme, which aims to provide a service to the greater marine science community by monitoring the movements and migrations of inshore marine animals. The platform comprises an expanded network of automated datalogging acoustic receivers that are moored to the ocean’s floor around the South African coastline.

Marine Remote Imagery Platform (MAR-IP)

The remote imagery platform offers scientists the ability to conduct ecological research on benthic biota across the continental shelf of South Africa, from the shallow subtidal to depths of 250m. The platform allows for data collection on both demersal and benthic fish populations as well as sessile and mobile invertebrate species.

Collections and Specialised Laboratories Platform

JLB Smith Collections Management Centre

SAIAB is the custodian of the National Fish Collection of South Africa.  The collection consists of about 80 000 lots of fish specimens (containing at least 650 000 individual fish specimens) from southern Africa and surrounding oceans, and from elsewhere in the world.  It is the world’s largest collection of southern African fishes. Diversifying the natural history collection has been an on-going focus of curation at SAIAB for some years. Specifically, the recently established amphibian collection has been developing steadily.

Aquatic Genomics Research Platform

Molecular Laboratory

SAIAB’s Molecular Laboratory underwent extensive refurbishment in 2011. The new facility comprising twenty workstations is fully-equipped for genetics research. New equipment includes five PCR machines, a Gel Doc System, the Nanodrop 2000 and the 3500 Genetic Analyzer. In addition, laboratory computers house a range of genetic analysis software including Geneious, Lasergene and GeneMapper. The lab is equipped for DNA extractions, PCR amplification, cycle sequencing and capillary electrophoresis (for sequencing and fragment analysis).

Aquatic Ecophysiology Research Platform (AERP)

Experiments in the new state-of-the-art laboratory are extensive with students and staff from SAIAB, Rhodes University and University of Fort Hare making use of the platform. The laboratory aims to answer specific climate change questions with respect to organism physiology (the branch of biology dealing with the functions and activities of living organisms and their parts, including all physical and chemical processes).

Information Platform

Biodiversity Infomation Unit

Traditionally, specimen collection data or biodiversity information is managed through the use of a well-designed relational database. Since 2001 SAIAB has taken a leadership role in South Africa with respect to the adoption of, and strict adherence to, the use of the database and application named ‘Specify Biodiversity Collections Software’, developed by the University of Kansas Biodiversity Research Center. Active data exchange takes place with local and global networks such as the South African Biodiversity Information Facility (SABIF) and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). Keeping abreast of rapid changes in hardware is a cornerstone of such work. With the development of server virtualisation, SAIAB now offers a biodiversity data hosting platform to various organisations

Margaret Smith Library

The Margaret Smith Library contributes to research and teaching in aquatic biodiversity through heritage collections and a global web of data. In particular, the library holdings, the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology and SAIAB archives, with related special collections, inform and support the National Fish and Amphibian Collections at SAIAB.  The Library is fully utilised by students, staff and stakeholders, either in the Library itself or as virtual users.