Reef mappers caught in storm

2012-12-03 00:00

A GROUP of marine researchers expecting to map the reefs of the East African coastline over the next four months, have been set back after hitting a vicious Zululand summer storm.

The group made up of scientists, photographers and social entrepreneurs, who are part of an expedition called the East African Marine Transect (EAMT), are docked in Richards Bay harbour, undergoing repairs. After this they will continue with their ambitious programme of gathering open source data by surveying coral reef fisheries over a large geographical range — from Sodwana to Lamu, Kenya. They are using a technology known as stereo video surveying.

Scientist Mike Markovina said during their expedition they were forced to turn into Richards Bay last week while en route for Mozambique from Durban.

“We hit a storm near Leven Point, Cape Vidal. Our boom snapped, we lost sails and were forced to navigate the storm just one nautical mile off Leven Point.

“We were on our way to Ponta do Ouro and tried to maintain course, but eventually, our gearbox gave problems and we decided to head back to Richards Bay and get repairs done. We have since sent an advance party into Mozambique to get a head start with the data collection,” said Markovina.

They eventually called for the assistance of the Richards Bay National Sea Rescue Institute and were towed adjacent to the Zululand Yacht Club.

Although it is not uncommon for yachts to get into trouble on the east coast of South Africa, what makes this one different is what they are planning to do, how they are funding it and why.

The injured craft, a 70-foot steel monohull yacht, Lo Entropy, is the perfect research vehicle, with a large surface area using solar energy to create 750 watts of power. It has two dinghies to allow for access to shallow reefs and a diving compressor, enabling the divers a quick turnaround time.

Staying away from scientific research grants, on this expedition, the first of a proposed five over the next five years, the team used “crowd funding”, in which many people donate small amounts, to help finance the journey.

“We don’t want the data we collect to be owned by anyone as is the case with a number of scientific research expeditions. We want it to be open source, open to accountability.

“The data will help us understand the anthropogenic forces of nature. It will become a useful reference point for future studies, something there is very little of along the East African coastline,” said Markovina.

According to the EAMT website, the stereo video technology they will use allows for both imagery and sound to be recorded underwater.

It allows the length of fish to be measured within 95% accuracy, rules out misidentification and it allows the researchers to get a clear indication of what lives where.

On this trip, the explorers will in total complete 320 dives transecting 20 pre-determined areas, mapping individual reefs on a grid system.

For instance, in any given area, they will complete 12 transecting dives at the same depth, allowing the data to be as reliable as possible.

Expecting to leave today, the crew will rendezvous with their Mozambique contingent and probably head towards Kenya immediately and then map the reefs from north to south, thereby capitalising on the prevailing summer northerly winds.

The expedition is set to end on March 12, 2013.

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