Spatial Solutions

Gatherering data for uThukela Banks MPA

Principal Investigator: Professor Andy Green (UKZN)

The Spatial Solutions Project focusses on littlestudied mesophotic marine ecosystems on the east coast of South Africa which are 30-150m deep. With the advantage of a highly multi-disciplinary team, led by geoscientist Prof Andy Green, this project will match habitat and species distributions to sea floor
characteristics and investigate the linkages between oceanography, geomorphology and biodiversity patterns.

The new ACEP multibeam echosounder system will be used to generate the first fine-resolution bathymetry sonar-generated maps, and dynamic oceanographic data “draped” over the topographical landscape, followed by biodiversity data (habitats and species). The ecological data is being obtained by offshore remotely operated vehicle (ROV) benthic surveys for benthic community structure, baited remote underwater video systems (BRUVS) for fish species composition and abundance, integrated oblique plankton tows for fish larvae and zooplankton, and sediment grab sampling. This will result in an integrated categorisation of the continental shelf habitats which can be used in conservation planning as well as to identify areas for additional protected area expansion, and to inform effective management of existing MPAs. The 2016 and 2017 offshore cruises focussed on obtaining baseline data to guide the design and zonation of the globally unique proposed uThukela Banks Marine Protected Area as well as gathering data in the areas between the proposed Aliwal Shoal Expansion and the proposed uThukela MPA.

The unique partnership between this ACEP Project and the related ACEP Biodiversity Surrogacy Project with the Wildlands Ocean Stewards Programme, which was initiated in 2015, has already afforded eight Honours and 24 final-year undergraduate marine science students from five universities their first offshore ship-based research experience. These Ocean Stewards join six Masters-level students who are using data from these projects for their studies. Apart from experience in offshore research methodologies, the project scientists provide the students with on-board sessions covering invertebrate and fish biodiversity, ecosystem classification, data and image management, design of Marine Protected Areas and science communication.