WIOMSA 2022: Spotlighting Science in the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Western Indian Ocean

By Nkeiru Scotcher & Bernadette Snow

The Twelfth Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) Symposium brought together scientists, researchers, government and civil society officials, international organisations and stakeholders to share knowledge on innovative ocean science and systemic issues for sustainable ocean action. As highlighted in an earlier policy brief, there is a great need for transformative partnerships where challenges are addressed and approaches shared for sustainable ocean action. This post provides an overview of Hub researchers’ participation during the proceedings of the WIOMSA Symposium which was held as a hybrid virtual & in-person event at the Boardwalk Convention Centre in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa from 10 – 15 October 2022. This post will start with a brief background of the event’s focus, share highlights on Hub researchers’ presentations and projects they were involved with and conclude with Hub researchers’ remarks on the event.     

Focusing on Western Indian Ocean Science 

The theme of the Symposium was “A New Decade of Western Indian Ocean Science” and was inspired by global goals on ocean and climate action such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and regional platforms for coastal management such as the Nairobi Convention. WIOMSA 2022 aimed to mobilise the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) community and highlight the benefits of diverse approaches to challenges in the ocean. 

In the welcome address, WIOMSA president, Jacqueline Uku, emphasised that new developments in ocean sciences and utilising a wealth of knowledge systems drives participatory scientific engagement in addressing challenges faced by the region.  

Hub researchers contributed to WIOMSA 2022 sharing their research, identifying gaps in knowledge and highlighting solutions to challenges faced in the WIO region. Key themes underpinned by the SDGs and explored by Hub researchers at WIOMSA 2022 include:  

  • Planning marine spaces with a view to balancing blue economic development with sustainability  
  • Supporting opportunities to acquire knowledge and skills in a collaborative manner for transformative ocean action, as highlighted in an earlier blog post.   
  • Increasing scientific knowledge and research for ocean health through co-development with a view to addressing inequalities in capacity and technology, as expanded upon in this policy brief.  
  • Ensuring climate resilient cities 

    Community-Led Ecosystem Restoration 

    Exciting contributions kicked off the week-long Symposium with the report back on the WIOMSA-funded Cities and Climate Change in Coastal Western Indian Ocean Project; CICLICO by Bernadette Snow (Hub Deputy Director). Climate change affects the ocean ecosystem and adversely impacts human rights and freedoms (see Hub insights on the link between human rights and the ocean here). Hub research has shown that conservation actions need to consider issues of access and exclusion of many Indigenous and local communities and that community led-ecosystem restoration of the coastal and ocean environment is imperative to mitigate and improve climate resilience because all natural systems provide essential ecosystem services.

    Ecosystem restoration supports co-development of local solutions such as mangroves and coral reefs, that provide natural barriers against increased sea level rise and storm surges, are cost effective and improve the natural climate-ecological structure of an ecosystem. Hub research has shown how ecosystem restoration of blue carbon habitats further supports climate mitigation strategies and blue financing for a sustainable future. Hub researchers have contributed to the multi-funded Algoa Bay project in South Africa, producing evidence of benefits of ecosystem restoration and protection. (See here). Also working with Bernadette Snow on the CICLICO project to co-create solutions for better adaptation of vulnerable coastal cities are Meredith Fernandes (Nelson Mandela University, South Africa) who presented preliminary results from the Capital Approach framework, emanating from CICLICO and Lena Rolfer (Leuphana University, Germany), who presented a poster on stakeholder network analysis and implications for developing climate services needed for resilient cities. 

    Marine Spatial Planning 

    At the mini symposium on the future of marine spatial planning in the Western Indian Ocean, the presentation by Hub early-career researcher, Mia Strand (Nelson Mandela University, South Africa), reflected on the importance of recognising the cultural oceanscape in regional marine planning. Focusing on South Africa and the wider WIO region, the presentation emphasised the utility of cultural connections to the ocean and coast because they overlap with conservation objectives. The importance of art-based participatory research in planning is further examined here and Hub early-career researchers have recommended transdisciplinary approaches that aim to challenge top-down knowledge production here and here.  

    Nina Rivers Photo: Mia Strand

    Another Hub researcher, Nina Rivers (Nelson Mandela University, South Africa), focused on the integration of indigenous and local knowledge holders in marine spatial planning processes. The presentation reflected on co-identified pathways developed from multi-stakeholder workshop with government officials, conservation authorities, provincial and local coastal managers, heritage authorities, non-governmental organisations, indigenous and local knowledge holders. Some of the pathways include:

    • Co-developing marine area management plans with coastal communities
    • Designating specific areas of the coast for cultural heritage practices, protection and development
    • Increasing access to information through accessible multi-lingual databases

    Amanda Lombard (Nelson Mandela University, South Africa), a researcher on the multi-funded Algoa project, to which Hub funding and researchers contributed, co-presented with Bernadette Snow (Hub Deputy Director) on the development of a regional spatial planning strategy for the WIO. Another researcher on the Algoa project, Anne Lemahieu (Nelson Mandela University, South Africa), co-presented with Bernadette Snow on the design of a methodological framework for the Algoa Bay marine spatial planning project, the inclusion of diverse datasets, including cultural layers, for planning purposes and lessons learned from the Algoa project.

    Nkeiru Scotcher (Hub Knowledge Exchange Associate) presented an e-poster on the different types of knowledge groups, the dominance of knowledge groups that are process and factor focused and the value of integrating other kinds of knowledge in transboundary marine spatial plans.

    Left to right: Mia Strand, Helena Sims, Amanda Lombard, Gonçalo Carneiro, Stephen Mtalii, Anne Lemahieu and Nina Rivers (online were Kaylee Smith, Estee Vermeulen, Rozanne Peacock
    Photo: Meredith Fernandes

    Ocean Science-Policy Interface

    In the special session on the Ocean Decade Africa Roadmap, with representatives from NGOs, governments and international organisations, Bernadette Snow (panellist) discussed initiatives that can strengthen links between science, policy and society via the Ocean Decade in Africa. In the special session, Bernadette Snow explained that trans-disciplinarity involves working across knowledge systems including different disciplinary perspectives, expertise and knowledge holders such as Indigenous and local people. This approach requires trust, respect, the ability to listen and apply, and communicate using different methodologies in a way that is inclusive and accessible. Co-designing proposals, policies, research and solutions need to acknowledge power, agency and input from Indigenous and local knowledge holders. “Stakeholder engagement is not co-design, it is business as usual”, says Bernadette Snow.  

    The special session also discussed challenges, opportunities across science-policy in the region and the role of the Ocean Decade Africa Roadmap. Bernadette Snow explained that science and policy need action because it is important to see the positive impact of science in decision-making. Challenges are often context-specific but it is vital that there is support for avenues such as WIOMSA 2022 for distilling and presenting key points to a larger audience. Opportunities have been created through transdisciplinary research but there is the need to continue exploring pathways in line with Hub recommendations to support emerging voices for transformative ocean governance.  

    Representatives from NGOs, governments and international organisations at the special session on the Ocean Decade Africa Roadmap.
    Photo: Mia Strand/Meredith Fernandes

    As highlighted by Mia Strand, “it is important to package and communicate one’s science and results beyond an academic audience. More science communicators are needed to ensure that ocean science has the greatest reach and impact. It is also essential to critically examine what we regard as evidence, and we need to push for more co-design, participatory research and knowledge co-production.”

    Deep Sea Partnerships

    Hub and Challenger 150 researchers Kirsty McQuaid, Kerry Howell and Kerry Sink together with colleagues from the region, led a special session on galvanising deep-water research to support policy processes in the WIO region. The session showcased deep-water research from the WIO region and explored priority research questions. The session also discussed some key barriers and enablers for developing capacity in deep-water research, and opportunities for creating a shared equipment facility in the WIO with possibilities for deploying new and affordable deep-water equipment. The Hub has also highlighted the need for better regulation, management and monitoring function in the deep sea.

    Picture of the Ocean. Photo: Nkeiru Scotcher

    Key next steps highlighted at the session include reviewing and synthesising existing knowledge of deep-water ecology for the WIO, and exploring potential sources of under-utilised deep-water equipment, both regionally and globally. There was clear interest in promoting coordination of deep-water research activities in the WIO region, with plans to continue this work under the global UN Decade endorsed Challenger 150 deep-sea programme.

    Looking Ahead

    The One Ocean Hub continues to work on expanding partnerships with various local and non-governmental organisations in fostering transdisciplinary approaches to ocean action and in partnership with various organisations co-hosted 15 side events at COP 27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt with the aim of reinforcing knowledge co-development and transformative action at the ocean-climate-human rights nexus.

    Cover photo: Nessim Stevenson