The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was inscribed as a world heritage site in 1999 in recognition of its natural beauty, global value, and the unique biodiversity the area has to offer. The marine sector, warmed by the tropical equatorial waters of the Agulhas Current, is in fact so special that it is renowned worldwide for being home to a healthy population of coelacanths, a biodiversity hotspot, and an area of great ecological significance. Each year thousands of visitors head to Sodwana Bay to get away from the rat race while taking advantage of the pristine nature the area offers, particularly in terms of fishing and SCUBA diving.
The African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP) is a scientific research program initiated to investigate the integrated biodiversity and processes of African coelacanths and their ecosystems. In simple terms, this research is not only geared towards coelacanths, but rather towards conducting groundbreaking research in the entire ecosystem in which they occur. The research objectives of ACEP are achieved by conducting frequent, dedicated research trips to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park by multidisciplinary research teams. In addition to these dedicated field trips ACEP has three Master of Science (MSc) students, from the Rhodes University Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science, in residence in Sodwana Bay for the next 12 months (May 2010 – May 2011). This enables the capture of important ecosystem scale events, such as migration or reproduction, often related to the changing of seasons. Each of these MSc projects has been structured to incorporate independent aspects of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park marine sector while relating the resulting information to the greater picture of the entire coelacanth ecosystem.
By Reece Wartenberg (MSc Cand, BSc. (Hons)