College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Delegates at the 17th South African Marine Science Symposium.

UKZN Helps Organise 17th SA Marine Science Symposium

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The University’s School of Life Sciences and the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, on behalf of the South African Network for Coastal and Oceanic Research, organised the recent 17th SA Marine Science Symposium (SAMSS) in Durban.

The symposium, attended by about 370 academics, students and marine science practitioners from throughout southern Africa, explored the links, continuity and changes in marine science of the past and present, with the emphasis on how the science being done today will determine the “future pasts” of our marine ecosystems and the people who depend on them.

Broad themes explored in oral and poster presentations as well as plenary discussions included strategies for adaptive management; novel insights from ecology and biology; ecosystem functions and services; lessons from the past, and global change: from prediction to action and adaptation.

‘Recent technological advances are driving new fields of biological endeavour in Marine Science with the aim of addressing current environmental and societal needs,’ said conference chair, UKZN’s Professor Ursula Scharler. ‘Funding models are promoting transdisciplinary research and multi-institutional programmes that not only tackle ongoing global change issues but have tangible societal benefits as well.

‘At the same time, the skills and lessons of the past remain pertinent. Studies of biodiversity and evolved traits inform species resilience and probable trajectories in an age of global change, emphasising the lasting truth of Dobzhansky’s famous dictum – that nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution,’ said Schaler.

‘Ancient coastlines and climate records can shed light on past conditions and changing biological assemblages. Studies in basic marine ecology, chemistry, oceanography and organismal biology build our understanding of the important drivers of marine systems and inform our decisions and actions.’

The SAMSS symposium went broader than the pure sciences, with a highlight of the programme being the performance of Lalela uLwandle (Listen to the Sea), an interactive immersive theatre and public storytelling experience, led by Empatheatre and researchers from the One Ocean Hub. This project brought to the surface the lived realities of people involved directly and indirectly with the ocean.

Also, on display was an Erwan Sola Art Exhibition, Fishbones and Chips, which reflected and encouraged meditation on mankind’s consumption of seafood and the state of world fisheries, inviting consumers to consider more sustainable ways to keep world markets going.

Members of the public were invited to attend Oceans of Plastic, a guest lecture presented by the Director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town Professor Peter Ryan, who engaged a full house with his study on the statistics of plastic in the world’s oceans and the implications thereof in terms of what needs to be done about it.

Referring to the relevance of the symposium, Scharler said: ‘While funding for pure or basic science is under pressure, it may be the foundation for the next scientific revolution, and helps us retain the sense of wonder that ensures continued engagement with the marine world.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Supplied