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UWC and DEA sign Memorandum

Collaboration on Oceans research: UWC and DEA sign Memorandum of Understanding

“In addressing questions on preserving South Africa's oceans and coasts and finding sustainable uses for marine resources, the Department of Environmental Affairs concluded that such questions require a national effort. So we had to identify national partners. We are proud to have found in the University of the Western Cape an institution concerned with the development of South Africa, and one that shares our belief that young South Africans must be given the opportunity to engage in getting to know our precious ocean and coastal environments.”

These were the words of Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) Deputy Director-General Dr Monde Mayekiso, spoken as DEA recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Dr Monde Mayekiso and UWC Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic Ramesh Bharuthram were the signatories on the MoU signed at the launch of the partnership between the DEA and UWC at UWC's new Life Sciences building on Friday 3 May.

UWC Dean of Science – and marine natural products chemist – Prof Michael Davies-Coleman opened the proceedings by first welcoming the DEA delegates (many of whom were visiting their alma mater for the occasion), and then introducing several of UWC's top marine and related researchers, including biotechnologists, mathematicians and taxonomists, who will form part of the Science Faculty research team engaging in the research collaboration with DEA.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for UWC to expand our presence in multidisciplinary marine research involving marine biologists, chemists, microbiologists, biotechnologists, mathematicians and resource managers. It’s all outlined in the MoU, and I'd like to thank all of you that contributed enormously to this programme. With the recent award of an NRF National Equipment Programme Grant to UWC to enable us to purchase a 500 MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer we will have a key investigative tool to drive successful marine biodiscovery research at this University. I believe the stars are aligning in favour of marine research at UWC,” said Prof Davies-Coleman.

Andre Share, Chief Director: Oceans & Coastal Research at DEA, explained the historic significance of the MoU, and outlined a vision for future research collaboration and coordination. The purpose of the MoU is to encourage collaboration in matters related to the management and conservation of South Africa’s oceans and coasts. DEA has identified UWC as a critical partner in understanding more precisely the extent and potential sustainable use of the rich marine biodiversity off South Africa’s shores – there are over 10 000 species of marine plants and animals around the southern African coast, constituting some 15% of the coastal marine species worldwide.

The partnership aims to add momentum to DEA's 15-year strategic plan, which is underpinned by research programmes including Marine Biodiversity, Biodiscovery and Biotechnology, Ecosystem Health, Ecosystem Functioning, Observational and Operational Oceanography, Southern Oceans and Antarctic Research and Coastal Research.

DEA will receive access to the intellectual capital of UWC, and will be able to draw on the experience and enthusiasm of UWC students and staff. The collaboration will provide opportunities for DEA staff development through the pursuit of postgraduate degrees registered at UWC. In return, UWC will be able to train students via bursaries and research funding for postgraduate research – in fields which, although aligned to national objectives, are increasingly becoming very difficult to study because of decreasing access to research funding.

“This is indeed a historic day, and I am absolutely delighted to see the fruition of a process to formally engage with the University of the Western Cape as a strategic partner,” said Chief Director Share. “As an ex-student and staff member of UWC, this evokes a sense of homecoming. We recognise with pride how the University has evolved as it went through turbulent years to become an institution of national pride.”