17 January 2011
South Africa and France have set up a joint laboratory, the International Centre for Education, Marine and Atmospheric Science over Africa (ICEMASA), to study the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems in the Indian, Atlantic and southern oceans.
The centre, through which researchers will also study ocean circulation and the effects of global climate change on fisheries, was launched at the Department of Environmental Affairs’ offices at Cape Town harbour last week.
This follows an agreement between South Africa’s University of Cape Town, Department of Environmental Affairs and Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and France’s Universite de Bretagne Occidentale (UBO) and developing-country research arm the Institut de Recherche Pour Le Developpement (IRD).
The IRD has allocated an annual cash budget of €50 000 (about R453 000) to ICEMASA, as well as €1.2-million (about R10.89-million) for equipment.
Johan Steyn, chief director of marine resource management at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, welcomed the establishment of ICEMASA, which he said would build on existing cooperation between the two countries.
Steyn said the department had been involved with France with various other marine research programmes for 14 years, and that these programmes had helped to train many South African scientists over the years.
Leading player in marine research
Cooperation had previously focused mainly on biological and oceanographic research on the West Coast’s Benguela current system, but would now be expanded to include the effect that climate change was having on both coasts.
IRD President Michel Laurent said South Africa was an important meeting place for three different ocean systems, which made the area one of the most interesting to study.
Added to this, he said South Africa, and particularly UCT, was a leading player in marine research on the African continent, and had also for more than 10 years been implementing an ecosystem approach to fishing which was internationally recognised.
“It has thus become a real model for countries of the north and the south,” he said.
He said another key focus of the agreement was that of capacity building, pointing out that the IRD presently had 16 laboratories with 1 500 scientists and engineers plus almost as many professors from the French side.
New degree qualification
The agreement between the two countries will see the development of an international Master of Science degree in Atmospheric, Oceanographic Sciences and Climatology between UCT and UBO, the participation of ICEMASA scientists in lectures and seminars in South Africa, and the training of African students and junior scientists to use quantitative research methods in marine ecology studies.
Eight visiting French scientists had already been posted to UCT for a four-year period – the duration of the first phase of ICEMASA. They were supervising one Masters and three PhD students who were receiving funding through ICEMASA.
UCT deputy vice-chancellor Daniel Visser said the agreement would help UCT to become a centre of learning and teaching that was relevant to the continent and that contributed both to south-south integration and to regional integration.