Contact Us
IOC-Africa forges new commitments to sustainable science at sea

Representatives from 30 African countries converged on Bellville, Cape Town, for the second session of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) Sub-Commission for Africa and Adjacent Islands (IOC-Africa) from 3 to 4 April 2013. The meeting was held at the University of the Western Cape's (UWC) School of Public Health.

Following on from the sub-commission's first session in Nairobi in May 2012, delegates – including representatives of several research institutes from member states and international organisations such as the Agulhas Somali Current Large Marine Ecosystem, Benguela Current Commission and Canary Current Large Marine Ecosystem, and South African universities such as UWC, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology – met to craft a strategic plan for the research and management of Africa's oceans and coastal environments through to the year 2021.

The Chair of IOC-Africa, Dr Monde Mayekiso, the Deputy Director General of South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) presided over the session, with the aid of IOC-UNESCO Executive Secretary Dr Wendy Watson-Wright and IOC-UNESCO Chairperson Prof S.K. Byun.  UWC Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Brian O’Connell opened proceedings, and highlighted the importance of research and collaboration on an international scale. DEA Director General (and UWC alumna) Nosipho Ngcaba delivered the keynote speech, addressing the importance of mitigating climate change through sustainable development practices.

“The continent of Africa is the most vulnerable to climate change – yet it contributes the least to atmospheric emissions. Therefore it is fitting that over the next few days, you are emphasising research and monitoring of our oceans processes and systems,” she told delegates in  her keynote address.

The event was planned and run along a typical United Nations design, with countries identified by flag and representative, and interpreters who simultaneously translated everything said to participants in both international languages (English and French). Delegates shared and debated approaches to coastal hazard assessment, data and information management, oceans and coastal assessment and outreach, climate change research and capacity-building activities.

The sub-commission session produced a draft strategic plan addressing key strategic issues such as: methods of managing and conserving Africa's oceans; strengthening international scientific cooperation with respect to oceans and coasts; and promoting science for sustainable development.

Ashley Johnson, Director: Oceans Research at DEA and Head of the South African delegation at the session (and another UWC alumnus), said the meeting was productive. “Though South Africa would have liked to see a complete strategic plan emerge, we recognise that the draft strategic plan developed in plenary is an achievement in itself,” he said. “Bringing together more than 20 countries and developing a holistic plan should be considered a successful meeting.”

Prof Gavin W. Maneveldt, Head of UWC’s Biodiversity and Conservation Biology Department and the University’s representative on the local organising committee for the session, agreed with this assessment. “What impressed me was the fact that in just two days, the commission was able to formulate and adopt a plan of action - bearing in mind that this meeting represents only the second time the sub-commission has met in its entirety since its establishment in 2011,” he said. Prof Maneveldt is a principal investigator on a new Memorandum of Understanding the UWC Faculty of Natural Sciences is about to sign with DEA on “Collaboration in matters related to Oceans and Coasts”.

The strategy for the draft strategic plan will be finalised through further discussion before it is tabled at the IOC Assembly in Paris in June 2013, where an implementation plan will be put in place.

IOC-Africa was established to coordinate and strengthen ocean and coastal research activities around the African continent and eventually develop an effective ocean monitoring and research system that could warn against ocean-based disasters and develop products to inform decision-making. South Africa currently serves as the chair of IOC-Africa. “The formulation of an IOC-Africa is critical to the African continent because it will strengthen the IOC’s presence in Africa, increase the effectiveness of its actions, and give concrete effect to the priority accorded to Africa by UNESCO,” said Prof Maneveldt.