Launch of new sea science and species mapping project makes a splash

Launch of new Sea Science and Species Mapping Project

Cape Town, 18 March 2014.

Marine biologists, students, citizen scientists and marine decision makers have joined forces in a new collaboration to unlock marine biodiversity knowledge and opportunities in South Africa. The SeaKeys project aims to collect and distribute genetic, species and ecosystem information to support wise decision making in the marine environment. This information is vital as expanding marine activities such as seabed mining, oil and gas activities and alternative energy initiatives compete for space with established fisheries and recreational use of the country's seas. Core to the project are several new marine citizen science projects that invite contributions from the public. by Dr Kerry Sink

Marine biodiversity knowledge lags behind that of other environments. The ocean is less accessible than the land, and costs and logistical challenges increase with depth. SeaKeys is the first large collaborative project funded through the Foundational Biodiversity Information Program – a joint initiative of the Department of Science and Technology, the National Research Foundation and the South African National Biodiversity Institute. The SeaKeys team includes more than 30 people from 20 institutes and departments and aims to involve civil society in collecting information on marine biodiversity. Over the next three years the project will deliver national species lists, new species distribution records, DNA barcodes, new species descriptions, identification guides and maps, and new tools for ocean decision making. The citizen science component involves new atlasing projects as well as monitoring of jellyfish and potential marine invasive species that may pose risks to ocean ecosystems. The species mapping initiatives include a National Fish Atlas, a Sea Slug Atlas, an Atlas for corals, seafans and anemones and an Atlas for mapping starfish, urchins, sea urchins and their kin.

The SeaKeys project uses three web-based platforms to collect marine species observations. “We are asking scuba divers, fishers, snorkelers, ROV pilots, beach-goers, Marine Protected Area visitors and staff to for their help” said Principal Investigator Dr Kerry Sink. South African citizen scientists have made many contributions to marine science in South Africa and beyond. Divers discovered species such as the star gazer shrimp, new klipfish species, the onate sleeper or “Electrolux” ray and even Sodwana’s coelacanths. Fishermens’ contributions to the discovery of new species peaked a century ago but observant fishers found new species of kob, goatfish and goldies in more recent times. SeaKeys and related projects are working on ways for recreational fishers to contribute to fish stock assessment and catch monitoring and are requesting historical images to show the size and diversity of catches in the past. SA Jellywatch calls for public participation in tracking jellyfish distributions and abundance. i-Spot and Echinomap allow for uploading of photographs of marine species along with locality information (using Google Earth maps or GPS co-ordinates) to create detailed distributions of South African marine species. These will be used in habitat mapping, monitoring and the assessment of species and ecosystem threat status and protection levels. These applied research outputs will support ocean zoning, decision making in the fisheries and mining sectors, sustainable development, climate change adaptation and the establishment of Marine Protected Areas. Public contributions to SeaKeys will make a real difference to the health of our oceans.

The launch was hosted in the Whale Well of the Iziko South Africa Museum. Dr Wayne Florence, Curator of the Marine Invertebrate Collection and a Co-Investigator on the project, has led the development of new displays to showcase SeaKeys. This project will unlock historical records and fast track the identification of thousands of marine invertebrate specimens housed at the museum which remain to be studied. “SeaKeys will position South Africa to improve the volume and quality of foundational marine biodiversity information and knowledge that will be accessible for applied research, decision making and ultimately societal benefit.” said Florence.

The SeaKeys project also aims to explore benefits from marine biodiversity. Novel approaches to market non-consumptive uses of South Africa’s marine biodiversity will be piloted. Watch out for the “Dive South Africa” project and its associated new scuba diving training courses, bio-dives to document marine species, sea slug shootouts and much more.


Contact, Dr Kerry Sink, Marine Programme Manager, South African National Biodiversity Institute for further information.

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021 7998855, 0828310536


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