This Marine Month, MzanSea, an innovative ocean literacy project hopes to make a splash with the launch of it’s first products that will help reveal marine ecosystems to people. The MzanSea project aims to connect South Africans with the diverse marine ecosystems in our oceans. A new website (www.mzansea.org), a children’s activity book and a set of fact sheets have been developed. Celebrations kicked off last week with an online education outreach session organised by Thomas Mtontsi, who was part of the project development team in his role as science engagement officer for the Egagasini Node of the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON). One lucky group of learners were the first to engage with these products and meet the project team at the launch event.
Three Oceans, many ecosystems
South Africa is a country with three connected oceans but most people have limited if any experience of the amazing ecosystems that lie beneath the surface of the sea. While many people are familiar with the range of ecosystems on land – forest, fynbos, savannah, grasslands and more; most people struggle to name the aquatic equivalents and most people think of the sea as just a single biome. However, just as on land, the sea has many different ecosystem types each with their own types of animals, different ways of functioning and different values to humans.
Rocky shores, kelp forests and coral reefs are familiar to some but few people have any knowledge about life in deeper water. The MzanSea products introduce the magical animal forests, deep midnight margins and liquid highways that connect ocean basins, nations, ecosystems and cultures. Visiting the website will take you to undersea mountains or seamounts, to submarine canyons or the hidden life of sandy and muddy shelves.
Rolling back the blue blanket
The MzanSea team noted that many marine scientists forget what a privilege it is to experience and explore marine ecosystems, so they decided to share their experiences with others. Prof Kerry Sink, Principal Scientist at the South Africa National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) explained that she was once asked in an interview what superpower she would like to possess. She responded that she would like to be able to part the sea – like Moses- to reveal just for a moment the incredible diversity of ecosystems that lies beneath the ocean surface. ‘’The MzanSea team are working to help realise the dream of sharing the amazing marine ecosystem diversity in South Africa’’ said Sink. Sink’s mother, Sandra, came up with the term “’rolling back the blue blanket’’ when explaining the need to reveal marine ecosystems while she volunteered as an education guide with Dr Judy Mann-Lang, one of the project developers at the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR). When asked about the project impact Judy said ‘’I am excited that for the first time South Africans and indeed people around the world will have the chance to explore our fantastic ocean ecosystems. These educational resources are significant because they will build the ocean literacy that is needed to develop South Africa’s blue economy. For example, if we want to do mining in the ocean, we need to understand the ecosystems we are mining’’.
Caring for marine ecosystems
The MzanSea Project was made possible by an international research collaboration known as the One Ocean Hub which aims to transform our response to the challenges facing our ocean and influence decisions and practices that shape the future of the ocean by promoting sustainability and justice. Sink, also a Professor at Nelson Mandela University explains how the Hub spans different disciplines and brings multiple forms of knowledge together to help make wise and fair decisions for our oceans. The MzanSea products include elements about why and how to care for ocean ecosystems and profile young marine scientists studying different ecosystem types.