The SeaKeys Project is a large collaboration that aims to collate and increase marine biodiversity information and translate this information into products to support decision making and the development of new benefits for South African society. Researchers, citizen scientists, marine managers and decision makers are working together in an ambitious new project that will collate, co-ordinate and apply marine biodiversity knowledge.
The project is a three year collaboration funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa through the Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme. This program aims to support integrated projects that not only generate and disseminate foundational biodiversity information, but ensure that data is used to improve decision-making, service delivery and create new economic opportunities. Funded projects need to deliver species inventories, records, species pages, DNA barcodes, new species descriptions and ensure that all this information flows up the biodiversity knowledge chain to ensure uptake.
The SeaKeys project is co-ordinated through SANBI, and involves more than 30 team members with representatives from more than 17 different organisations including multiple government departments, research institutes, universities and even industry. The project team will focus on collation, consolidation, generation and dissemination of foundational information to support sustainable resource use, spatial planning and development in South Africa’s marine and coastal environment.
Key elements in the project motivation included the lack of comprehensive marine biodiversity databases in South Africa and a need for improved co-ordination and collaboration between departments and institutes. The description, assessment and understanding of marine biodiversity lags behind that of other environments and these shortfalls hamper monitoring of marine biodiversity, global change understanding, provision of evidence-based policy and management advice, marine spatial planning and the ability of South Africans to derive sustainable benefits from our rich marine biological diversity.
The diverse project team will address research gaps with a focus on habitat forming, resource, indicator and biosecurity species and ecosystems that deliver key services or are sensitive to impact. The knowledge will be applied in the assessment of stocks and species conservation status; ecosystem description, mapping and assessment; monitoring; invasive and disease species research; environmental impact assessment and marine spatial planning. This is important for management relevant to fisheries, mining, energy, trade, aquaculture and global change. Data will be disseminated through online databases, species pages, guides and maps along with publications and sector-specific guidance to ensure products support sustainable use and development.
The project continues to unlock new capacity in terms of post graduate students, citizen scientists, EIA practitioners and decision makers by providing a range of training workshops with both local and international expertise.
Citizen scientists can play, and are already playing, a huge role in marine science in South Africa and every time they interact with the ocean there is an opportunity for amazing discoveries to take place. iSpot is a platform through which these discoveries can be shared and collated and forms an important bridge between the general public and experienced fish taxonomists who can confirm and recognise exceptional findings. After only two years our citizen scientists have made several exciting discoveries. The project have had submissions from Langebaan all the way up to the Mozambique border with input from a great variety of citizen scientists, from ROV pilots, SCUBA divers and students in volunteer programmes to fishermen and beachgoers. Each group contributes a unique and valuable set of images to the database. To get involved all you have to do is visit our iSpot page (http://www.ispotnature.org/communities/southern-africa/SeaKeys).
This project is a great opportunity to demonstrate the value of foundational biodiversity knowledge and collaboration and has the potential of being a pivotal moment for the South African marine environment and community.
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