#02 2024

SAEON continues to build significant networks through stakeholder forums

By Nicole du Plessis, Science Officer – SAMREF Secretariat, Egagasini Node, NRF-SAEON

The SAEON Egagasini Node hosted two important meetings to build and maintain stakeholder relations. Engaging with other research institutions, universities and government departments is crucial for SAEON to have a national impact.

Fifth South African Marine Research and Exploration Forum (SAMREF) meeting  

The Egagasini Node has hosted the SAMREF Secretariat since its establishment in 2016 under the Operation Phakisa Oceans Economy Lab. Initially, the focus of SAMREF was on facilitating engagement between researchers and the oil and gas industry to access non-commercial environmental data held by the industry, but this has been expanded to consider engagements with all maritime industries. At the fifth SAMREF meeting that was held online, the Secretariat provided an update on activities since the Forum had last met in 2019 and the participants discussed potential areas for data sharing the Secretariat could explore.

Data sharing agreement signed with TotalEnergies 

A recent key outcome of SAMREF has been the signing of a data sharing agreement between TotalEnergies and SAEON. TotalEnergies conducted an extensive environmental baseline assessment in 2022 across their exploration blocks which included sediment and water samples, ROV (remotely operated vehicle) camera transects and bathymetry. A feedback event to highlight the results of the survey, held on 12 March, was attended by the Egagasini Node’s Ms Nicole du Plessis and Dr Lara Atkinson. TotalEnergies have also conducted high-frequency (HF) radar observations since 2018, for operational safety requirements.

Research access to data from industry is important as South Africa has limited financial capability to undertake extensive surveys across the EEZ (exclusive economic zone), with most of the deep sea unmapped. The information from TotalEnergies will assist with benthic species mapping and identification of important biodiversity areas. The data that will be shared could also be used for ocean modelling validation.

Participants in the TotalEnergies stakeholder meeting (Photo courtesy of TotalEnergies)

Total provided a detailed description of their survey planning and processes to stakeholders (Photo courtesy of TotalEnergies)

21st SA IORAG Steering Committee meeting  

The 21st South African Chapter of the Indian Ocean Rim Association Academic Group (SA IORAG) Steering Committee meeting was held online on 21 February. The Egagasini Node has hosted the SA IORAG Secretariat since 2016. This is an important programme for SAEON as it facilitates the strategic international priorities of South Africa, with key partners from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).

The Steering Committee guides and provides oversight of the Secretariat. A key outcome of the meeting was confirming the processes for the annual SA IORAG Stakeholder Network meetings. These meetings will now be held in collaboration with a member of the network, at their institution, to create visibility of the SA IORAG (and by extension SAEON) and assist with outreach and promotion of the programme across the country.

Hosting these two networking platforms has provided SAEON with the opportunity to grow its visibility nationally and internationally within the science-policy interface, and leverage opportunities for greater impact of SAEON programmes.