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Collaborating to improve our knowledge of the South Atlantic

By Juliet Hermes, Tommy Bornman and Kogie Govender, SAEON
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The All-Atlantic Research Forum aims to set the scene for strategic partnerships in marine research between Brazil, South Africa and the European countries within the framework of the Bélem Statement

Kogie Govender, Tommy Bornman and Juliet Hermes represented SAEON and their respective disciplines at the South-South Workshop on Atlantic Research Cooperation and, following that, the Belém All-Atlantic Research Forum in Salvador, Brazil.

The South-South and Belém workshops are based on collaboration between South Africa and Brazil, Namibia, Angola, Uruguay and Argentina to improve our knowledge of all aspects of the South Atlantic.

Arising from this, is the South-South Framework for Scientific and Technical Cooperation in the South and Tropical Atlantic and Southern Oceans.

The South-South Framework was developed by South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Brazil’s Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications in July 2017. The framework is aimed at coordinating a comprehensive South-South research programme, which can be used to synchronise research activities with our Northern Hemisphere counterparts (EU, US and Canada), as agreed upon in the Belém Statement).

Representatives from South Africa, Brazil, Uruguay and Cape Verde attended the initial meeting in July to suggest three or four core projects that could be put forward to the European Union to collaborate with the countries that are surrounded by the South Atlantic Ocean.


The workshops were held in Salvador, the capital of Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia, which is known for its Portuguese colonial architecture, Afro-Brazilian culture and a tropical coastline

Belém All-Atlantic Research Forum

The Belém All-Atlantic Research Forum in Salvador, Brazil took place over two days, with organisations from Europe, South Africa and Brazil showcasing their marine science work. The aim of the All-Atlantic Forum was to foster links among different organisations working across the Atlantic.

Juliet Hermes, manager of SAEON’s Egagasini Node, gave a presentation on SEAmester, South Africa’s floating university, on behalf of Prof. Isabelle Ansorge, who was unable to attend. The presentation ignited much laughter when Juliet illustrated how the oceanography cruises reignites passion for student’s ocean science.

This year’s SEAmester was completed on the ASCA line and took much-needed CTD and biological measurements for understanding the Agulhas Current, particularly given there are so few measurements during winter. SEAmester hosts around 45 students from nearly every university in South Africa, along with 15 lecturers and 15 dedicated scientists and technicians.

The students can attend lectures on topics such as oceans in a changing climate and ocean tools and have a hands-on opportunity to take real measurements contributing to a South African research programme. Many of this year’s results will be presented at the inaugural ASCA mini symposium on 28 November.


Representatives from South Africa, Brazil, Uruguay and Cape Verde attended the South-South and Belem workshops 

Sharing of coastal research infrastructure and technology

Tommy Bornman, manager of SAEON’s Elwandle Coastal Node, presented on the sharing of coastal research infrastructure and technology. The Shallow Marine and Coastal Research Infrastructure (SMCRI) was highlighted as one of two large marine research infrastructure investments the DST has made as part of the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR).

Two platforms of SMCRI were highlighted as shared among the South-South and North-South Atlantic nations, i.e. long-term ecological research sites forming part of ILTER and telemetry arrays forming part of the Ocean Tracking Network. Coastal research infrastructure could potentially support the Belém Partnership and the associated projects through linking the open ocean to the coast (e.g. the SAMBA line) and ensuring that the essential ocean variables (EOVs) and essential biodiversity variables (EBVs) collected at different sites are similar. 

The impact on society is greatest at the coast (sea-level rise, storm surges, harmful algal blooms, subsistence fisheries), with more potential to develop the blue economy. Access to research infrastructure and data is free and open by default, which makes it easier to conduct science engagement and capacity building and training in the coastal zone.

Horizon 2020 projects, in turn, can support coastal research infrastructure through provision of data that can improve coastal modelling and especially forecasting for an improved quality of life for all citizens living along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

Ocean science engagement

In her presentation, Kogie Govender, SAEON’s Science Engagement Coordinator, highlighted the ocean science engagement programmes that the SAEON Elwandle and Egagasini nodes have established, as well as future programmes that can be implemented through international collaborations. The role of SAEON’s research platforms in science engagement activities was clearly illustrated through activities such as ocean science camps, sea-going oceanography cruises for learners and educators and data programmes using marine instruments.

During SAEON’s science engagement programmes, learners take on the role of junior scientists when they design, implement and produce research outputs for their scientific projects, which the international community attending the programme found very impressive.

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Kogie Govender, SAEON’s Science Engagement Coordinator (2nd from right), formed part of the societal benefit panel          

Tommy Bornman highlights the societal benefits that can be derived from the new Shallow Marine and Coastal Research Infrastructure

Juliet Hermes tells workshop participants more about SEAmester, South Africa’s floating university                                             

Global citizen science programmes to address plastic pollution were presented, in which citizens not only gather data, but also gather meaning from their data. This is expected to result in improved behaviour patterns among beneficiaries of the programme.

The All-Atlantic Forum aims to set the scene for strategic partnerships in marine research between Brazil, South Africa and the European countries within the framework of the Bélem Statement, which was adopted in Lisbon in July 2017 with the aim of strengthening research in the Southern Atlantic.

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