Rural Coastal Sustainability Laboratory launched in Mthatha

A beach in the Eastern Cape

Photo by Creamer Media

26th January 2024

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) have launched the Rural Coastal Sustainability Laboratory at the Walter Sisulu University (WSU) Mthatha campus. The laboratory will focus on coastal livelihoods research.

The advanced marine science and research laboratory is the fourth such laboratory built for historically disadvantaged institutions through the DSI- and NRF-funded Joint Marine Laboratories Programme (JML). The other laboratories were opened at the universities of Zululand (UZ), the Western Cape (UWC) and Fort Hare (UFH) in 2022 and 2023.

The laboratories, in the universities’ science campuses, tackle specialised research to address key challenges faced by South Africans and the world, such as marine pollution, and to contribute to social outcomes, such as the United Nations (UN) Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

“Adaptation to climate change will be achieved through stress response experiments to detect the survival abilities of different marine species under projected seawater condition changes. Known as ecophysiology, the experiments will enable WSU to select the most resistant species as sentinel species for environmental change monitoring programmes along the Wild Coast,” the DSI says.

The UZ laboratory specialises in marine and estuarine ecotoxicology, the UWC laboratory focuses on microplastics research and the UFH laboratory is researching marine resources that might be effective against some common diseases, such as diabetes and cancer, for the pharmaceutical economy.

The four institutions are JML partners and collaborate for the research and training of marine science students, the department notes.

The WSU laboratory will focus on addressing food security and adaptation to climate change, says WSU academic affairs and research acting deputy vice-chancellor Professor Elphina Cishe.

“This initiative is an attempt to deal with challenges faced by rural communities, and the challenges may be different in the four universities' communities.

“The common challenge is food security, which is coupled with adaptation to climate conditions. According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa is considered a food secure country, but, when we look on the ground, we are food insecure.

“Food security will be tackled through experimental studies on factors influencing the reproduction, life history and growth of different species under culture conditions,” she says.

Further, the JML notes South Africa’s commitment to the oceans economy and research for sustainable marine life, says DSI research development support deputy director-general Imraan Patel.

“There is a greater recognition of the importance of our marine regions and resources. The launch of the WSU laboratory is an acknowledgement of this importance. WSU is taking its place in the broader family of South African institutions that will help us advance and take advantage of our marine resources.

“The launch also comes at the start of the UN’s decade of oceans research, and I hope that the colleagues who are running this lab will contribute, using this facility and other initiatives, to enhance the profile of marine research,” he says.

The JML is intended to bolster marine science research at the four universities. It is linked to the NRF South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (NRF-SAIAB) African Coelacanth Ecosystem Phuhlisa Programme, which is a decade-old strategic development initiative that aims to accelerate transformation in the marine science research community.

“The WSU JML launch is a culmination of a vision and discussions held in 2020. It was at the NRF-SAIAB fiftieth anniversary that a dream was born, which was to establish joint marine labs at the four universities that are part of this programme,” says NRF-SAIAB acting MD Dr Albert Chakona.

“The JML's mission is to bridge the resource gap and create opportunities for success by providing innovative solutions and the establishment of modern and cutting-edge state-of-the-art research platforms at these universities.

“It is the fulfilment of a dream four years in the making, and what started as an idea and visionary initiative has blossomed into a thriving community, united by the collective passion in education to push the boundaries of knowledge, drive innovation and promote inclusiviity in the academic landscape,” he comments.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online




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