Cape Town – South Africa’s Blue Economy vision for a stronger and sustainable ocean economy depends on the strength of its scientific foundation, says SAEON’s Dr Lara Atkinson.

On Thursday the South African Earth Observation Network (SAEON) in collaboration with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) launched a landmark marine field guide at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town.

According to Atkinson, an editor on the field guide, the correct identification of marine taxa is a fundamental requirement for long-term monitoring. “Such monitoring enables scientists to detect changes in marine biota. In turn, understanding these changes in marine biota contributes to the effective science-based management of our marine ecosystems,” she said.

The “Field Guide to the Offshore Marine Invertebrates of South Africa” was co-edited by SANBI marine biologist Dr Kerry Sink – who thanked Atkinson for her “perseverance, leadership, and attention to detail”.

SANBI Head of Biodiversity Research Carmel Mbizvo highlighted the importance of building foundational biodiversity information and made special mention of the Foundation Biodiversity Information Programme’s (FBIP) SeaKeys project, which contributed significant “taxonomic and distribution records”.

Contribution to marine biology

The book is a photograph-based field identification guide that enables researchers, fishery observers and fishers to readily recognise and identify commonly occurring invertebrate epifauna from South Africa’s offshore region – it enables them to identify up to 409 offshore invertebrate species or classify unknown species into one of 12 phyla.

The information gathered will inform research towards quantifying and assessing ecosystem impacts, leading to the implementation of sustainable management practices in the demersal trawl sector.

“The research supports international and local interests which include fisheries eco-certification through the Marine Stewardship Council hake trawl certification; participation in a global trawl impact assessment, and national ecosystem classification,” according to SAEON.

“The rich photographic display of deep-sea species is also being used for educational outreach and aims to generate broader public engagement and awareness of our ocean environment.”

The field guide, complemented by the extensive training of students, interns and emerging researchers, was an important contributor in addressing the gap in offshore invertebrate knowledge in South Africa.

According to SAEON the information gathered supports the long-term monitoring and data availability of marine invertebrates and advances taxonomy and biogeographic research – moreover, the information contributes to the description, mapping, assessment and thus the improved management of marine ecosystems.

DIGITAL VERSION: A digital version of the Field Guide is available on the SAEON website.