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SAEON student waves SA flag at international marine conservation congress

By Mapula Makwela, MSc student, SAEON Egagasini Node
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Mapula Makwela (L) and her SANBI supervisor, Dr Kerry Sink, during a sightseeing trip at St John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

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Mapula presenting her talk at the 4th International Marine Conservation Congress

The 4th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC4), which was held at St John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, is one of the most important international meetings for marine conservation professionals and students.

Delegates from all over the world meet to discuss and present issues pertaining to various marine conservation topics. These range from effective marine conservation planning, fisheries, aquaculture and the oceans to citizen science for coastal and marine conservation, to name a few.

The main theme for this year's congress was "Making Marine Science Matter". The broadly structured programme had many topics to choose from, ensuring that one would never run out of choices of what to attend. In addition, there were workshops, focus-group sessions, story-telling and poster sessions on offer throughout the conference.

Using marine epifauna data to refine habitat classifications

Mapula Salome Makwela, a Master's student at SAEON's Egagasini Node and one of Dr Lara Atkinson's students, presented a chapter of her Master's project titled: Marine Epifauna Matter: Application in Ecosystem Classification, Assessment and Marine Protected Area Design in South Africa.

In her presentation, Mapula highlighted how marine epifauna data (benthic invertebrates) can be used to test and refine existing habitat classifications of the East coast of South Africa. She explained the methods used and how her results will be incorporated into one of the proposed new marine protected areas of South Africa.

"The session ended with a lively Q&A session," says Mapula, "and while some delegates took pictures of the slides while I was presenting, a student from Memorial University in Canada, who is also doing research on habitat classifications, asked me to share my presentation with her. After the congress her supervisor sent me a number of interesting publications highlighting their research."

Building global networks

Reflecting on her time in Canada, Mapula says she has learnt a great deal from people she met at the conference. "The congress has been a wonderful opportunity for me to network with people from across the globe. I have made contact with a number of senior students who are currently doing their PhDs as well as professors from a range of universities.

"I have also been empowered by the plenary talks of young, female marine scientists who are doing great work in their specific fields of study, such as Sri Lankan marine biologist Dr Asha de Vos and Dr Max Liboiron, Assistant Professor in Sociology, Geography and Environmental Sciences at Memorial University of Newfoundland."

As it was her first experience of travelling abroad, Mapula had a lot to learn, but describes her trip as "a journey of a lifetime". A flight cancellation on her first day of travel changed the whole trip plan, but she did not allow these unexpected challenges to spoil her experience.

Says Mapula: "Go sepela ke go bona, which translates to ‘travelling opens new windows to the world'; one gets to see and learn new things in life through travelling!"

Mapula is registered at the University of the Western Cape and supervised by Prof. AJ Smit, Dr Kerry Sink (South African National Biodiversity Institute - SANBI) and Dr Lara Atkinson (South African Environmental Observation Network - SAEON). Bursary and travel funding is received from SANBI and the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme.

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