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Advancing our understanding of the Indian Ocean and its role in the Earth System

By Nicole du Plessis, Jordan Van Stavel and Juliet Hermes, SAEON Egagasini Node
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In March this year, over 100 delegates from 21 countries gathered at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth for the 3rd International Indian Ocean Science Conference (IIOSC3).

Professor Mike Roberts and associated colleagues of the West Indian Ocean SOLSTICE (Sustainable Oceans, Livelihoods and Food Security Through Increased Capacity in Ecosystem) project, in conjunction with the UNESCO IOC Perth Programme Office, successfully hosted the IIOSC3 on behalf of the Second International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE-2) Joint Project Office.

The event served as a platform for several overarching Indian Ocean meetings.


Delegates attending the IndOOS meeting

Southern African Western Indian Ocean (SA WIO) Showcase and SOLSTICE Robotics Workshop

The week’s proceedings started with an opening ceremony during which Prof. Roberts welcomed delegates to Nelson Mandela University and, symbolically, to the region itself. This was followed by introductions by VIP guests such as Prof. Andrew Leitch (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Nelson Mandela University), Mr Ashley Johnson (South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs), Mr Nigel Casey (British High Commissioner, South Africa), Prof. Peter Burkill (SCOR & Co-Chair IIOE-2 Steering Committee), Dr Satheesh Shenoi (INCOIS, Ministry of Earth Sciences, India & Co-Chair IIOE-2 Steering Committee) and Dr Nick D’Adamo (UNESCO IOC Perth Programme Office, representing Dr Vladimir Ryabinin, UNESCO ADG /IOC Executive Secretary and Co-Chair /Co-Sponsor of IIOE-2).

Following the introductions, representatives were given the opportunity to highlight research trends within the Western Indian Ocean (WIO). Thereafter each institution presented a brief showcase on the work they had been conducting in the Southern African WIO, with the session closing on major WIO projects that included presentations by SAEON’s Juliet Hermes, Jordan Van Stavel and Tommy Bornman.

Later that evening, in a more informal setting, guests were given a tour of the university's new Ocean Science Campus. This was followed by a demonstration during which guests were exposed to marine robotics such as gliders and marine autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) as an introduction to the robotics aspect of SOLSTICE, a collaborative project co-headed by Prof. Mike Roberts of NMU (South Africa) and Dr Katya Popova of the National Oceanography Centre (United Kingdom).

IIOE2 Steering Committee meeting

The two-day programme of the third meeting of the Second International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE-2) Steering Committee started on 12 March. The overall proceedings for the day involved updates on the previous IIOE2 SC2 meeting, as well as a keynote titled ‘Update on UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-30 and relevancy to IIOE-2 both now and beyond 2020’, presented by Dr Vladimir Ryabinin.

The agenda for the rest of the meeting included report backs from the chairs of the various national committees and whether these were implementing strategy and the Science Plan as intended. The IIOE2 Science Themes Working Group’s framework was then reviewed, and progress reports were delivered by the chairs of the Science Theme team.

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Dr Vladimir Ryabinin delivers the keynote address via conference call at the third meeting of the IIOE-2 Steering Committee                                        

Bramble Cay Melomys, which has gone extinct as a result of anthropogenic climate change (Photo sourced from

Running parallel to the Steering Committee meeting was the WIO Marine Robotics Workshop attended by representatives from various countries and wide-ranging backgrounds. This workshop was aimed at developing a WIO-wide plan for Marine Robotics through new and innovative technology.

Prof. Kevin Hosborough, Chief Scientist for International Development of the Marine Physics and Ocean Development Group at the National Oceanography Centre, United Kingdom, presented on the need for technology in the region and included a slide from Juliet Hermes’s presentation to highlight how much work is already being carried out within Africa.

Strengthening Ocean Observing in Africa (SOOA)

The Academic Cooperation, Science and Technology Focus Group of the SA IORAG hosted a networking event on the side-lines of the IIOSC 2019 on 13 March 2019. The meeting included international participants from Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles and Tanzania.

The focus of the meeting was to provide an opportunity for participants to showcase the research priorities and capabilities of their universities and research institutions with a view to building and strengthening marine science networks in Africa under the ambit of IORA.

Participants were welcomed by Prof. Juliet Hermes (SAEON). This was followed by a presentation on IOGOOS (Global Ocean Observing System for Indian Ocean) by Mr M. Nagaraja Kumar (Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services) and presentations from Ms Nicole du Plessis (SAEON), Dr Gilbert Siko (DST), Mr Mthuthuzeli Gulekana (DEA), Prof. Sabrina Dyall (University of Mauritius), Dr Nuette Gordon (Blue Economy Research Institute, University of Seychelles) and Dr Bernardino Malauene (National Institute of Fisheries Research, Mozambique).

Discussions centred around increasing the number of publications from the region when participating in international programmes conducted in the region, sharing of research platforms (instruments, boats/ships) and challenges around capacity to maintain and service instruments and infrastructure.

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Dr Bernardino Malauene of the National Institute of Fisheries Research, Mozambique, gives a presentation at the SA IORAG networking event

Dr Nuette Gordon of the Blue Economy Research Institute, University of Seychelles, delivers a presentation at the SA IORAG networking event

Prof. Sabrina Dyall of the University of Mauritius addresses delegates at the SA IORAG networking event                                 

One of the priorities during South Africa’s chairship of IORA is to strengthen academic engagement in the region and this meeting has built on previous engagements by South Africa in the region (10th WIOMSA Symposium,SA IORAG Roadshow). The SA IORAG is intended to continue post the IORA chairship period, with the Group focusing on collaborating with academics in the region to provide evidence-based policy advice on topics of importance highlighted through IORA.

On Thursday and Friday, the focus moved to the IndOOS (Indian Ocean Observing System) review and the Indian Ocean Regional Panel (IORP) meeting. At the start of the review, Roxy Mathew Koll (co-chair of IORP) highlighted that the Bramble Cay Melomys (Melomys rubicola) is the first species to become extinct due to anthropogenic climate change (last seen in 2009). It lived on a vegetated coral cay at the northern tip of the Great Barrier Reef and, due to sea-level rise of 7 mm a year (more than twice the global average), coupled with extreme tides and storm surges, the small sand island was frequently inundated.

IndOOS aims to provide sustained high-quality oceanographic and marine meteorological measurements to support knowledge-based decision-making through improved scientific understanding, weather and climate forecasts and environmental assessments. The core findings of the review are:  

  • Coverage of the Arabian Sea and western equatorial Indian Ocean needs to be completed rapidly;
  • An increase in biogeochemical measurements is needed throughout the Indian Ocean basin;
  • Enhanced vertical and temporal resolution of upper-ocean measurements is needed at RAMA (Research Moored Array for African-Asian-Australian Monsoon Analysis and Prediction) moorings; and
  • Need to establish boundary flux arrays in the Agulhas and Leeuwin Currents, enhance Indonesia throughflow monitoring and increase observation of the deep ocean below 2 000 metres.  

The discussion for the day was around these core findings and the three-tier level recommendations, as well as a strategy for implementation. The review should be completed by August and will aim for a brief publication in BAMS (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society), along with the broader publication in Frontiers

This was followed by a discussion of the Indian Ocean Resources Forum (of which Dr Gilbert Siko is a member) and a closed IORP meeting to discuss business and new members.

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