The Department of Science and Technology (DST) briefed the Committee on the Marine and Antarctic Research Strategy (MARS), putting it into context. It was noted that South Africa was surrounded by the ocean on three sides and has a coastline 3 924 km long, which included the Prince Edward Island Group, with Prince Edward having a coastline of 32 km and its neighbour Marion Island having 134 km. The South African Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was 1 553 000 square km, but the extended Continental Shelf claim, if approved, would double the size of the ocean geographic extent. South Africa was the only African nation with a foothold in Antarctica, and therefore bore a responsibility to serve as a channel for broader African research in the Antarctic region and it was responsible for managing an ocean space in excess of its land territory.
The DST intended to create a demographically balanced marine and Antarctic research system to produce high quality research, and develop national capacity, and an increased international profile and influence. South Africa could capitalise on its geographic advantage and ensure availability of long-term data for environmental management, develop human capital base aligned to national plans and instruments and promote innovation, whilst increasing the numbers of scientists. The object of the research was to provide a well coordinated governance system for marine and Antarctic research activities, ensure sustainability of marine and Antarctic resources, develop a marine and Antarctic human resource pool, and improve quality of life derived from ocean economy, as well as creating a society fully informed on the value of marine and Antarctic research initiatives. The Marine Antarctic and Research Strategy (MARS) had various research themes and also ran parallel to activities at the Department of Environmental Affairs, such as biodiversity, understanding links between human pressure and ecosystems, and the impact of global climate change on marine ecosystems. These themes also focused on the South African Geographic Advantage along the EEZ and Continental Shelf additional areas. It would provide a platform for coordination and ensure improved value for money, by establishing structured planning around national priorities. Various interventions were identified, ranging from coordination and governance, through capital development and balancing demographics in science, using existing and new instruments, to establishing research groups and consortia. Existing instruments were to be customised to address growing research capacity in the marine and Antarctic research. The fourth leg would involve public awareness and engagement, by developing platforms for engaging with the public, and ensuring that new plans were crafted in line with the DST's science engagement strategy. The fifth initiative would coordinate access to the various platforms to avoid duplication of resources, and leverage government and other funding, whilst strong technical capacity would ensure that Antarctic countries did not use SA as a point to ship-out their equipment for servicing, but could utilise SA expertise to provide the services at a significantly reduced cost. Finally, data management would ensure proper centralisation of data emerging from the research, identify and meet any gaps. Running parallel to the process to finalise the MARS was the preparation of terms of approval to gazette the Strategy for broader public input and Cabinet approval.
Members appreciated the efforts, but asked if the DST was aware that the Department of Environmental Affairs efforts were lagging behind and asked how this would affect the strategy. They asked about the budgetary implications, the roles of the various departments and who took responsibility for the research vessel SS Agulhas.
Marine and Antarctica Research Strategy: Department of Science and Technology Briefing
Dr Thomas Auf der Heyde, Deputy Director-General, Department of Science and Technology, said that the Marine Strategy of the Department (or DST) had to be put into context of its geographic advantage, environmental management, research plans and thematic priorities.
He noted that South Africa (SA) is surrounded by the ocean on three sides and has a coastline of 3 924 km long. The coastline included South Africa’s sovereign possessions of Prince Edward and Marion Islands (collectively called the Prince Edward Island Group). Prince Edward Island coastline has 32 km, and Marion Island 134 km. The size of the South African Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is 1 553 000 square km. The indications are that a successful Continental Shelf claim will add an additional 880 000 square km to South Africa’s EEZ.
He noted that SA occupies an important geo-strategic position in the Southern Hemisphere, being surrounded by three great oceans – the Indian Ocean, South Atlantic Ocean and Southern Ocean. South Africa is the only African nation with a foothold in Antarctica, and therefore bears a responsibility to serve as a channel for broader African research in the Antarctic region. South Africa is responsible for managing an ocean space that is greater than its land territory. He repeated that an extended continental shelf claim, if successful, will double the size of the ocean geographic extent.
Dr Auf Der Heyde said that the vision of the Department was to create a demographically balanced marine and Antarctic research system that strives for high quality research, and development of national capacity. Their mission was to establish a national marine and Antarctic research system that produced maximum human capital, innovation, economic growth, and increased international profile and influence.
The research strategic significance was the promotion of fundamental and applied research. SA would have to capitalise on its geographic advantage. It must ensure availability of long-term data for environmental management. It was important for it to develop the necessary human capital base aligned with national plans and instruments. Research and development that breeds innovation and industry connectivity was vital. The Department was also concentrating on development of a critical mass of local scientists who were previously disadvantaged individuals (PDIs), and on growing general public awareness and engagement on subjects that were aligned with national priorities.
Dr Auf der Heyde said that the objectives of the research were to provide a well coordinated governance system for marine and Antarctic research activities. It must ensure sustainability of marine and Antarctic resources, and develop a marine and Antarctic human resource pool. The research also aimed to improve the quality of life for South Africans, derived from the oceans' economy, as well as creating a society informed on the value of marine and Antarctic research initiatives. It would contribute towards the creation of employment derived from innovation.
The Marine, Antarctic and Research Strategy (MARS) was constructed from bottom-up, and finalised top-down. Research themes were developed in broad consultation with the marine and Antarctic research community. There had been development of separate research plans for the Marine and Antarctic and Southern Oceans sectors, which were then consolidated into research plans for MARS in general. This was developed in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). MARS had its core in the development of capabilities in marine and Antarctic research in line with the National Development Plan (NDP). MARS also considered current international trends and priorities, and was aimed at understanding the role of biodiversity in maintaining ecosystems functionality, the relationships between human pressures and ecosystems, and the impact of global climate change on marine ecosystems.
Dr Auf Der Heyde said that the Marine Research Plan Terms of Reference was essentially to develop a single comprehensive national marine and coastal research agenda, as part of the overarching Marine and Antarctic Research Strategy. It was to identify and prioritise mechanisms for optimising marine and coastal research funding, using existing instruments. It would identify areas of marine research that required new instruments. The research themes focused on the South African Geographic Advantage along the EEZ (including the Continental shelf area claimed).
The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Plan terms of reference were to enable research (activities) to make a difference, and to deepen its output and networks, ensure SA authority on issues relating to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, enhance development of a research agenda that generated appropriate knowledge, and enabled SA to satisfy national imperatives and obligations in the Antarctic Treaty System. Research themes focused on the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP), Antarctica and the Sub-Antarctic Islands (PEMI) advantage.
MARS thematic priorities included the oceans and marine ecosystems under global change, earth systems observations, ecosystems, biodiversity and bio discovery, innovation and development, and Human Enterprise.
Dr Auf Der Heyde said that the question had been asked how MARS would make a difference? The answer was that it would provide a platform for coordination of marine and Antarctic research, addressing national priorities and capacity development through structured funding. This strategy would also ensure that there was improved value for money, by establishing structured planning around the national priorities such as Operation Phakisa initiatives.
He then described how it was intended to deliver the strategy. Under Intervention 1: Coordination and Governance: DST would establish a steering committee to guide the implementation of the strategy in partnership with the DEA, DAFF and other key stakeholder departments. The steering committee would be responsible for leveraging resources and providing policy leadership on implementing the strategy. It would appoint a reference group of experts from the research community to serve in scientific and advisory bodies and would seek to ensure that scientific research informed policy decisions. It would establish a system to ensure that logistical needs for researchers were managed in line with receptive capabilities of the line departments and research entities.
Intervention 2 involved Human Capital Development and Transformation. In line with the Human Capital Development strategy, the MARS would provide a platform for balancing demographics, through customisation of existing Human Capital Development instruments such as the Professional Development Programme (PDP), the Internships Programme, Post-doctoral Fellowships, Free-standing National Research Fund (NRF) Bursary programme and the grant-holder linked bursary programme. Strategic transformation interventions to be implemented for redress included: focused recruitment and training of black students in broad Antarctic and marine research programmes; strong support for existing transformation programmes at historically disadvantaged institutions (such as the Phakisa Programme for Marine Sciences that is implemented through the African Coelacanth Ecosystems Programme) and development of a mentoring programme to provide support to young researchers.
Intervention 3 involved Research Capacity Development. Dr Auf der Heyde noted that research groups and consortia were critical for development and maintenance of research excellence. There were several pockets of expertise that already existed but that needed to be nurtured to be able to attract the new generation of researchers. Existing instruments were to be customised to address growing research capacity in the marine and Antarctic research. On-boarding would include: Emerging researcher development programmes, post-doctoral fellowships, the Career Advancement Programme, Thuthuka programme, and the unrated researcher programme, ACEP-Phakisa, and SANAP development. The Antarctic and marine research domain specifically depended on the availability of strong technical capacity. There was a requirement to build a strong technical base to support the expanding research needs.
Intervention 4 would involve Public Awareness and Engagement. Existing research suggested that there was “a very low level of understanding of basic concepts and principles related to the marine environment”. The marine environment was considered, by the public, to be a very complex and emotive subject. A key action here would be to develop platforms to engage with the public in discussion and involve two-way exchanges that would raise the importance of Antarctica and the ocean, and the impact on them of human actions. Any new Marine and Antarctic public engagement plans must be crafted or amended in line with the new DST Science Engagement Strategy.
Intervention 5 covered the Infrastructure and Research Platforms. He noted that a rich suite of platforms and infrastructure was available for Antarctic and broader marine research, but it was necessary to coordinate access to them, to avoid duplication of resources. Governmental support and appropriate funding for science specifically, coupled with the necessary logistic support, would provide future national and international opportunities for both early-career and established researchers working in the region. The effective management of training, and logistics and technical support was imperative. Strong technical capacity would ensure that Antarctic countries did not use SA as a point to ship-out their equipment for servicing, but could utilise SA expertise to provide the services at a significantly reduced cost (in line with projections of the Operation Phakisa “Marine Transport and Manufacturing” laboratory).
Intervention 6 involved Data Management. It would ensure provision of proper centralised management of data emanating from the ocean, Antarctica and the Islands. This would be invaluable in sustaining and advancing scientific inquiry, and would undoubtedly increase opportunities for learning and innovation. As part of the data dynamics of the ocean and Antarctic Research, an Antarctic and Ocean Data Management System and centre should be established. This centre would function primarily to identify and manage existing databases, and keep records of their content, purpose and restrictions of use. It would also identify gaps, and in so doing would initiate processes to address such gaps, either through new collection efforts, or through new database creation. The centre would also function as a platform to provide the necessary information for the marketing of South African activities in the oceans and Antarctic regions.
Dr Auf Der Heyde said that the finalisation of MARS was running parallel to preparation of terms of approval to gazette the Strategy for broader public inputs, a presentation to Cabinet jointly by Ministers of Science and Technology and Environmental Affairs, and the development of the implementation plan in consultation with broad partners.
Ms J Terblanche (DA) said that the DST and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) were supposed to move together specifically on MARS because it was developed in connection with the DEA. However, it was indicated that the DEA strategic and implementation plans would only be finalised by the 2019/20 financial year. She asked if the DST was aware of this and asked how this would impact on DST plans going forward with this project, because it had serious cost and planning implications.
Dr A Lotriet (DA) noted the last slide of the presentation and said that this strategy had been a long time in coming, given the fact that the country had not developed much of a focus on the ocean much sooner. She asked what the budgetary implications of all this were, and what the role was of the DEA, and whether, in terms of the budget, there would be a 50/50 partnership, and how it was to be managed.
Dr Lotriet asked who took responsibility for the SS Agulhas ship, between the DST and DEA.
The Chairperson said that the last question was very important because there were lots of things that were left hanging between the DST and other departments. THere was a need to be quite clear on what was happening.
Dr Auf Der Heyde said that he was not sure which of the year plans Ms Terblanche was referring to and did not know if there was reference to the strategic plans and annual performance plan to that specific strategy. There might be, but he had not seen it and thus could not give a detail response in that regard. He did know that the DST had been a developmental part of MARS and he had confirmed that with two senior colleagues from the Department, that they had been part of the process and were happy with the strategy. It should be remembered that the strategy was still a draft and there would be final tweaking. The final strategy placed before Cabinet would be far more comprehensive than was presented here, so there would be variance.
Dr Auf Der Heyde added that the DST now needed to develop detailed implementation plans. It would need to deal at the level of resourcing and access to infrastructure, to prepare more detailed plans. DST would intend to deal with this on an annual basis. It would be reflected on the relevant annual performance plans as well. The DST had not yet reached that point, but it had an agreement at a conceptual strategic level, as to where it wanted to go and in what area. Across the two communities of DST and DEA there was quite a good understanding as to who would responsible for delivery of what area. There were aspects of the strategy, for example, where clearly the South African Maritime Safety Authority needed to come in. Therefore, this was a wide ranging strategy and it should be seen in one sense to be parallel with Operation Phakisa. They could not be reduced to a same thing, they were two different initiatives, and were clearly informed by each other, but there were things that would happen to Operation Phakisa that were not necessary part of the strategy. It was a research strategy, not an economic development strategy, and one that was intended to give outputs that could be utilised for a range of socio-economic purposes, including economic development. There were also very important aspects like management of the marine environment.
This strategy had been designed to produce those sorts of outputs from a research perspective. The details of how the DST would engage in taking forward the five research thrusts in the second level research project priorities would be workshopped between the DEA and the National Research Foundation (NRF). No everything could be done at once. The DST would have to plan this carefully and would be very happy to come back to the Committee in due course, to give more details on the strategy, but could not do so right at the moment.
Mr Auf Der Heyde noted that the exact contributions from both the DST and the DEA to the implementation of the plans would be worked out as they developed detailed implementation road maps for the strategy.
Dr Auf Der Heyde reported that the costs of running the SS Agulhas ship were as outlined before, in feedback on various Parliamentary questions. Ownership of the Agulhas was vested in the Oceans and Coast division of the DEA. The DEA was responsible for daily operational activities of the ship. It was, for instance, responsible for ensuring that the ship does what it was supposed to do in terms of providing logistic support to the Saldhanha base and the Antarctic and the islands. For example, the ship would transport workers from the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the materials needed for maintenance and upgrades.
It was clear that the ship had quite a complex operation and wide scope of activities. It was not merely for carrying researchers working on research projects that were funded by DST. Not only was the ship owned and its daily activities managed under DEA, DEA also had to accommodate research needs from research communities into the trips that the ship would undertake. This meant that the ship would take researchers, and their equipment, to the base where they were to conduct research. It would also provide a research platform to researchers who were undertaking research during the passage of the ship, for the ship would visit the Marine Islands and Prince Edward, where quite a bit of research was conducted along the way, stopping at certain times to deploy research activities.
The DST and DEA held regular meetings, including the NRF. The NRF was the DST agency for managing the research activities on marine and Antarctic area, but participated on those discussions and helped mediate the discussions between the DEA and the NRF in order to maximise the benefits of the ship to the research programmes that the DST supported. The two departments had a very good relationship, and he could say that the collaboration was already virtually optimal, although obviously there was always room for improvement. Developing the further plans for the MARS would bring the two departments even closer together and allow them to identify further opportunities for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the cooperation in that area.
The Chairperson noted that this had been a clear presentation and the Committee accepted the strategy. Since the DST was working on a global stage there was no option but to talk about the resources it was getting. Money had to be put in, to ensure that human capital did not leave the Department. There were opportunities here for the youth.
The meeting was adjourned.
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