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SAEON partner ambitious drive towards developing a regionally impactful, globally recognised Ocean Sciences strategy

By Dr Shaun HP Deyzel and Dr Tommy Bornman, SAEON Elwandle Node
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A new campus dedicated to postgraduate training, inter- and transdisciplinary research and engagement in the ocean sciences was officially launched by the Nelson Mandela University on 22 September 2017.

The Ocean Sciences Campus forms part of a bold new strategy pursued by the university under the passionate leadership of Vice-Chancellor Professor Derrick Swartz, who is adamant to steer Nelson Mandela University towards recognition as the leading Ocean Sciences university in Africa.

The prestigious event was well attended by Nelson Mandela University staff and students, academia, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (NMBM), local government, business, civic society and related organisations. Congratulatory messages were conveyed by the NMBM Executive Mayor Councillor Athol Trollip, Norwegian Ambassador Trine Skymoen, Finnish Deputy Head of Mission Anna Merrified, British High Commissioner Nigel Casey and Provincial Government’s Chairperson: Cabinet Committee on Economic Growth and Development MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane.

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SAEON Elwandle Node staff and students at the new Ocean Sciences Campus

The Ocean Sciences Campus is based at the former CSIR Campus near the Nelson Mandela University North and South Campus complex in Port Elizabeth. An initial R60m investment steered the first phase of infrastructural improvements, culminating in the development of several functional spaces cleverly designed to embrace the transdisciplinary theme advocated by the initiative. Facilities include a dedicated marine laboratory, physical oceanography workshop, research dive unit, aquarium facility, boardrooms and offices.

The space will be shared by the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research (CMR), the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI), FishFORCE (Fisheries Law Enforcement Academy) and four Nelson Mandela University-hosted NRF-funded SARChIs (South African Research Chairs Initiative), namely Law of the Sea (Prof. Patrick Vrancken), Marine Spatial Planning (Prof. Mandy Lombard), Ocean Science and Marine Food Security (Prof. Mike Roberts) and Shallow Water Ecosystems (Prof. Renzo Perissinotto).

A new home for the Elwandle Coastal Node

The facility is also the new home of SAEON’s Elwandle Coastal Node. In addition to the physical presence of administrative, research and technical staff, postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows, SAEON also contributes research infrastructure, much of which add significantly to regional capabilities in the marine sciences.

Among the research infrastructure presently installed is a dedicated Marine Biogeochemistry Laboratory, Sedimentology Unit, Light Microscopy Laboratory, an Electronics Workshop and Research Dive Unit. The latter will be a shared resource with the CMR Research Dive Unit (RDU), an entity responsible for subtidal and marine research support as well as scientific and commercial SCUBA diver training at Nelson Mandela University.

The CMR RDU is an active entity operating on average 100 dive days per annum. The RDU is authorised to offer Class 4 Commercial diver and supervisor and Class 5 scientific diver courses. SCUBA diving operations are integral to SAEON Elwandle Node LTER operations. SAEON has had a long-standing relationship with the CMR RDU, which will now be elevated to a new level of mutual efficiency and functional capacity at the Ocean Sciences Campus.

In addition to general SCUBA equipment, shared resources include post-dive washing facilities, a compressor to fill cylinders on site and a new Hyperbaric Chamber to improve diver safety. SAEON is also partnering with Nelson Mandela University to establish a state-of-the-art Science Centre on the campus for science engagement and public outreach activities related to the ocean. 

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State-of-the-art facilities and resources at the Ocean Sciences Campus, Nelson Mandela University

Nucleus for innovation in key marine and maritime spheres

The Ocean Sciences Campus has the potential to become a nucleus for innovative and pioneering transdisciplinary teaching, research and engagement in key marine and maritime spheres, through which much needed skills and knowledge will be generated to help steer the process of balancing pursuance of economic potential and sustainability.

“The threat to our oceans and the blue economy has never been greater and finding effective solutions will require national research platforms and ocean scientists from all disciplines across South Africa to work together in an enabling environment such as the new Ocean Sciences Campus,” remarks Elwandle Node Manager, Dr Tommy Bornman.

Indeed, SAEON will be embracing these challenges in the spirit of transdisciplinarity and innovation in partnership with Nelson Mandela University and the broader ocean sciences community.

Nelson Mandela University Ocean Sciences Campus Webpage: http://oceansciences.mandela.ac.za 

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