UCT is site for sub-Saharan marine biodiversity conference

23 September 2003
In a coup for UCT, zoologist Professor Charles Griffiths has been awarded a grant of R300 000 by the Alfred P Sloan Foundation to hold a workshop in which representatives from 16 African coastal countries will assess marine biodiversity in the waters off sub-Saharan Africa. The group hopes to co-ordinate research on marine life in the region, establish plans for protecting these valuable resources and set up academic exchanges between researchers.

The workshop is one of a series of meetings (one per continent) designed to evaluate global knowledge of life in the sea, said Griffiths, who is chair of the organising committee. "UCT has been selected as the sole African site for this global exercise."

UCT's Marine Biology Research Institute, the International Ocean Institute (Southern Africa) at UWC and the South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity are jointly convening the event Other members of the organising committee are Carmen Ras (secretariat, UWC), Dr Kim Prochazka (UWC) and Dr Alan Whitfield (South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity).

The African meeting will be held at the Breakwater Lodge, V & A Waterfront, from September 24-26. This series of workshops are an initiative of the Census of Marine Life (CoML) Programme in Washington, and delegates from the central CoML offices and from other continental groups will also be joining the 16 African national delegates at the meeting.

"We have also invited six black students from UCT and the University of the Western Cape as developmental delegates," Griffiths added.

Besides documenting the state of knowledge of marine biodiversity in the region, the workshop aims to establish regional networks of researchers who will promote and co-ordinate further research in the area. Delegates will also explore the threats posed to marine life in the region and will identify actions needed to safeguard these resources.

"We hope that these discussions will lead to the formation of a broader action programme," Griffiths noted.

Such a programme would include:
  • The formation of a network of biodiversity researchers and professionals in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Addressing key gaps in knowledge, for example, the mobilisation of research funding
  • Information dissemination and communication, mainly through an electronic database of biodiversity and taxonomic resources (including species inventories, catalogues of museum holdings, etc)
  • Developing human, institutional and infrastructural capacity for furthering knowledge of marine and coastal diversity through, for example, the development of an MSc course in taxonomic biodiversity studies
  • Facilitating the management of marine and coastal biological diversity using a database (including GIS-based information), the provision of advisory services, etc.
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