The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is ramping up its technological expertise to take the oceans and coast monitoring programme to the next level. The science and industrial research entity was contracted in 2016 by the department of forestry, fisheries and environment (DFFE) to research, develop and implement the oceans and coastal information system (OCIMS).
Harnessing observation tools
The programme forms part of the ‘Operation Marine Protection Services and Oceans Governance workstream Initiative 6: National Ocean and Coastal Information System and Extending Earth Observation Capability’. The initiative involves other key role-players including the department of science and innovation (DSI), the State Security Agency, environmental agencies, aquaculture agencies, fisheries and council management through various technical advisory groups.
The aim is to leverage the existing observation tools and data to gain ocean knowledge and make it easy accessible to the public. The partnership has seen significant progress in ocean and coast monitoring and in developing solutions that would not only help citizens but also to protect the country’s vast 3 200 km coastal line. Furthermore, to contribute positively to the economy and mitigate ocean-based illegal activities through the use of technology.
Exclusive economic zones
Sives Govender, CSIR’s Spatial Information System research group leader, explained some of the capabilities of the OCIMS. He said the monitoring system applies satellite remote sensing and geospatial information; provides operational wide area monitoring; and avails information products to support and enhance decision-making for the governance of South Africa’s 1.5-million- square-metre exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and coastal lines. According to Govender, OCIMS includes, among other:
- the integration of data
- data processing and analysis
- reporting and alerting to effectively and efficiently identify
- monitor and predict events and threats, with end-users, including government, industry, such as large-scale and artisanal fishing, aquaculture, oil and gas exploration; and
- public users involved in recreational activities.
Earth observation data
DFFE’s senior scientific adviser, Dr Marjolaine Krug, said the scope of things that need to be done in relation to the ocean is endless. These range from safety at sea, mitigating pollution to surveillance and climate variability to loss of biodiversity. Said Riëtte Pretorius, CSIR principal project manager: “Initially, one of the big things that we wanted to do was to create a store or an archive of all the earth observation data that is within government departments, because every government department has data that is potentially very valuable, but it is not shared or there is no mechanism for sharing.”
Early warning support systems
Pretorius said the project came about after a few technical demonstrations which revealed a range of possibilities such as the value and the impact that these technologies could have on the daily work, into the development of systems. She said the focus so far has been on early warning support systems about harmful algal bloom and oil spill detection; operational support for small or large vessels planning operations at sea; compliance and enforcement around regulation of fishing, vessel tracking and pollution monitoring; and planning and assessment support for marine spatial planning. She also cited the deployment of an integrated vessel tracking tool that is used mainly by the security cluster departments and fisheries to monitor the EEZ, checking what vessels are coming in, their speed and what they did.
Integrated vessel tracking tool
OCIMS has also proven to be a vital tool in curbing illegal entry into South Africa waters. Another example of the success of the OCIMS integrated vessel tracking tool is the tracking of vessels fishing in marine protected areas, which were subsequently caught, and successfully fined for fishing in illegal waters. It also helps to identify when harmful red tides events happen and determine the size of such events. A red tide event in 2015 caused a walk-out of lobster stock of R114-million, similarly in 2017 a harmful algal bloom caused aquaculture farm losses in excess of R50-million.
Establishing strategic partnerships
The CSIR has also fostered partnership with the National Sea Rescue Institute, where together with the South African Weather Service, they developed a tool for the rapid calculation of a search area in the event of somebody falling overboard or lost at sea.
Various navigational aids are used in the calculation of a search area, considering the sea states, wind direction and currents, which traditionally took about 20 minutes. Similar collaboration has been forged with the South African Environmental Observation Network to build ocean models around the Algoa Bay and Cape Peninsula areas. This will provide simulations of the ocean currents, temperature and salinity in three dimensions, and provide a forecast five days ahead, said Krug.
Expanding into the AU region
The CSIR is also working with the African Union to share knowledge and to expand the project into the broader Southern African region, said Govender. Many African countries have limited budgets and physical coastal surveillance, leaving only earth observation and spatial information system tools that can help them remotely monitor and track, Govender added.