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Egagasini Node contributes to student workshop focusing on next generation of marine scientists

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Dr Juliet Hermes, Manager of the SAEON Egagasini Node tells the students more about internships and careers in marine science

By Amy Weeber, SAEON Intern

As the next generation of marine scientists, we need to consider the future of marine science in South Africa - how did it start, where is it heading and how can we help to conserve what is left of our diverse marine ecosystems?

These were a few of the questions addressed at the South African Network for Coastal and Oceanic Research (SANCOR) student workshop that took place in August 2013 at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) in Kirstenbosch.

A grand total of 72 marine science students from the University of Cape Town (UCT), Stellenbosch University, Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) and Rhodes University attended the workshop, as well as seven guest speakers.

The workshop began with an inspiring and entertaining presentation by Professor Larry Hutchings, who shared his perspective on how marine science has developed during his career. Larry showed us how he and his colleagues used his ancient wooden calculator to estimate fish stocks.

Due to the growing computer and modelling power of the 21st century, we will soon be able to answer very complex scientific questions around marine science. Dr Deena Pillay (UCT) gave us some insight into his research projects and explained how interdisciplinary collaboration is being used to understand how complex and delicate coastal ecosystems are responding to change.

Building a career in marine science

Finding a job as a marine scientist is no easy task and the next two presentations were focused on providing students with ideas about how to move from studying into the workplace.

Thought-provoking talks by Dr Sebastian Swart (CSIR) and Mthuthuzeli Gulekana (Department of Environmental Affairs) gave us advice on the skills needed, opportunities available and the challenges associated with a career in marine science. It was also noted that it was important for environmental scientists to do outreach work and to inspire the youth to become passionate about the environment.

Student presentations

Tea was followed by student presentations covering a wide range of marine science topics. Hayley Cawthra, a PhD student at UCT, presented her work on the influence of sea-level fluctuations and human evolution on Mossel Bay.

The next four talks were focused in the southern Benguela, a dynamic upwelling region of great interest to both physical and biological marine scientists. Kate Watermeyer, a PhD student at UCT, spoke about the southward/eastward shifts in sardine and anchovy in the southern Benguela and the possible ecosystem-level implications of these shifts.

Raissa Philibert (PhD, UCT) presented her work on nitrification rates, comparing nitrification in the southern Benguela to nitrification in the Southern Ocean, while Mutshutshu Tsanawani (PhD proposal, DEA/CSIR /UCT) spoke on investigating the effects of ocean acidification in the southern Benguela. Hayley Evers-King (PhD, UCT) presented her work on Harmful Algal Bloom events and the seasonality of chlorophyll in St Helena Bay.

This student session was finished off by Sifiso Mbambo’s (MSc, UCT) talk on the variability of phytoplankton communities in Algoa Bay.

Education outreach

Lunch was an opportunity for the students to get to know one another and to interact with some of the guest speakers. Thomas Mtontsi, environmental education officer at SAEON’s Egagasini Node, joined the lunch and encouraged students to engage in education outreach. Hayley Evers-King, who recently won a grant at the "I'm a Scientist, get me out of here" competition, set up a project with Thomas and will hopefully be getting a South African school to become involved in this programme in the near future.

The second student session began with Jessica Dawson (PhD, UCT) giving a fascinating account of her adventures in collecting "hippo crap" in the St Lucia estuary in order to investigate the role of hippos as ecosystem engineers. Zoleka Filander, an MSc student at UCT explained how she will investigate the systematics and biodiversity of South African echinoids and Shannon Hampton (PhD, UCT) gave her findings on genetic differentiation between sites for anchovy in South Africa.

Thomas Morris, an MSc student at UCT enlightened us on the use of fish parasites as bio-indicators and Haley Pope, an MSc student from Stellenbosch presented her work on the alien and indigenous barnacles along the South African coast. Brendan Havenga (MSc, Stellenbosch) explained how non-indigenous marine species impact biodiversity and mariculture in Saldanha Bay.

The student presentations were wrapped up with a great presentation by Morgan Brand, a PhD student at UCT, looking at the effects of Ulva on the growth and immunity of cultured abalone.

Student/supervisor interactions

After an afternoon tea break, Dr Sophie von der Heyden (Stellenbosch) and Prof. Coleen Moloney (UCT) gave their ideas on "the perfect supervisor" and "the perfect student" respectively. The importance of supervision was discussed and suggestions around student/ supervisor interactions were given. Students were again encouraged to get involved in outreach programmes and environmental education.

A short discussion followed around funding, internships and jobs in marine science, facilitated by Dr Juliet Hermes, Manager of the SAEON Egagasini Node. The day ended with two prizes awarded to Raaisa and Zoleka for their great presentations.

It was quite a challenge for me to chair the workshop and to tell experienced professors that they need to stop talking because their 10 minutes was up! Overall it was an enjoyable and rewarding experience to be part of the organising team and I think that the workshop was an incredible success.

Thank you SANCOR, NRF and SAEON for organising and funding the workshop and thank you to all the students and guest speakers for their attendance and enthusiasm.

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A grand total of 72 marine science students attended the workshop

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