ALGOA Bay is now “the best monitored bay in Africa” with millions of rands worth of equipment installed below the surface measuring a wide range of environmental conditions. That was the proud revelation yesterday (July 28 2011) from SA Environmental Observation Network (Saeon) co-ordinator Shaun Deyzel, who was speaking at a marine science symposium hosted by SA National Parks, at the Addo Elephant National Parks.
The strong recent research progress in the bay is being keenly watched and supported by SANParks, who want to establish a 120000ha marine protected area (MPA) along the middle-eastern section of the bay.
The intensive focus on Algoa Bay began with an initiative in the mid-2000s, Deysel explained. Members of the science and conservation community were concerned about the lack of long-term research in South Africa, which is vital to proper gauging of trends and impacts of both natural and human-related events.
A committee was established which approached the SA national department of science and technology. Funding was obtained from them and Saeon was born, to be managed under the auspices of the National Research Foundation.
The organisation’s coastal Elwandle node of research was headquartered in Grahamstown because of the partnership opportunity offered there by the SA Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity. With 3000ha of coast to choose from in terms of where to start – after exhaustive consultation, the organisation selected Algoa Bay as their “core site”, based on various criteria, Deyzel said.
“These included the proximity of PE offering a human interface component, and important fisheries, as well as the full range of physical elements including reefs and islands, sandy and rocky beaches and major penguin and gannet colonies. It was the perfect place to start.”
Saeon’s goal was to establish a comprehensive and long-term record of base-line data against which any future human or natural event could be measured, he explained.
“To this end, since 2008 we have put in 27 continuous monitoring platforms which measure things like temperature, salinity and acidity as well as the direction and velocity of currents.”
The acidity check is important as increased acidity, thought to be the consequence of climate change, can decimate primary marine food sources like phytoplankton, because it dissolves their shells.
The equipment is either attached to a rope suspended from a buoy, to allow different depths to be checked, or it is moored to the seabed, he explained.
“We have already accumulated an exceptional volume of data and this monitoring will go on for a long time to come. Algoa Bay is now without doubt the best monitored bay in Africa.”
Preliminary results have been remarkable, he said.
“Some of the most interesting stuff is what we are learning about upwelling and how it is affected by the wind. Upwelling is when ocean forces bring nutrients up from the seabed to the surface, jump-starting marine activity. Algoa Bay is very special in this regard.”
Complementing the Saeon installations, fish and shark specialists have attached their own “listening devices” to monitor tagged individual animals like the two raggies that were released from Bayworld back into the bay this week..