The Suitcase Project

Principal Investigator: Sean Fennessy & Mike Roberts

Mesoscale eddies are prominent at the ends of the western boundary currents (WBC). The Agulhas is the only WBC that has frequent mesoscale eddies in its source region, largely induced by the Madagascar landmass splitting the South Equatorial Currents (SEC) into northward and southward flows at 20° S. The source and cause of the mesoscale eddies travelling westward from southern Madagascar remains unresolved as few studies have focussed here. Indications are that the westward drift of eddies is influenced by the Mozambique ridge, protruding south westwards from Africa at 35° S. While it is plausible that eddies act as transport vectors given their ability to entrain and sustain biological material, it is unclear how they unpack their biological passengers onto the KZN shelf and coast. Insights gained from theoretical and simplified numerical models have highlighted important principals relevant to the Madagascan eddies impinging on the KZN shelf. The KZN marine fauna comprises species from adjacent tropical and warm temperate climes. The tropical fauna are evident of connectivity with East African countries to the north via prevailing southward water movement. Less easily explained is the co-occurrence of subtropical fauna in KZN and Madagascar – notably species thought to be endemic to southern Africa, but also non-endemic, co-occurring invertebrate species.

The questions to be answered are: Are these organisms conspecific? If so, do their origins date to pre-separation of Madagascar with genetic links being maintained by Madagascar-to-South Africa flow? Species dispersal over long distances is aided by lengthy planktonic larval phases. Genetic population analysis combined with ocean current system information and life-history characteristics are used to infer connectivity pathways. In species lacking pelagic larvae, long-distance dispersal could involve rafting of adults.


Reddy MM, Macdonald AHH, Groeneveld JC, Schleyer MH. 2014. Phylogeography of the scalloped spiny-lobster Panulirus homarus rubellus in the southwest Indian Ocean. Journal of crustacean biology, 34(6), 773-781.


Sean Fennessy
Mike Roberts
Gavin Gouws
J. Groeneveld
Jenny Huggett
Fiona MacKay
Bruce Mann
R. Ramanantsalama
A. Rasolomaharavo
Mike Schleyer
Kerry Sink
Tammy Morris
Tarron Lamont


Laura Braby (MSc) UKZN
Ryan van Rooyen (MSc) UKZN
Samantha Ockhuis (MSc) CPUT
Lindile Cele (MSc) UKZN