"Blue Economy" needs R&D

Last week, as WIOMSA President, I presided over the opening of the 8th edition of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Symposium held in Maputo, Mozambique. This week -long gathering of over 400 scientists from the Southern & Eastern African and Western Indian Ocean countries and beyond, is the largest and most prestigious event of its kind in the region. Keynote lectures, Special Sessions, as well as over a hundred presentations of research results and rooms full of scientific posters by local scientists were the highlights. This was the 8th edition. Organised by WIOMSA it has been going on since 1997.

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Epiphany at the WIOMSA Symposium

The latest, and exciting, edition of the WIOMSA Marine Science Symposium was held in La Reunion from the 24th to the 27th August and was attended by the top marine scientists and managers working in East and Southern Africa and the Western Indian Ocean islands. This not-to-be-missed symposium is a landmark event organised by the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) where the state of knowledge of many marine and coastal environmental subjects is discussed.

In one of those epiphanic moments, or what my pop psychologist friend Bert used to call an “Aha Insight”, I realised that every keynote address at this Symposium contained reference to Seychelles. This could be serendipity at work….On the other hand, it may be that scientists find entry points for research easily available in the country. But I think the reason why many researchers come to Seychelles is that there are serious issues fomenting under the water.

First, out there in our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the future of the tuna fishery is murky with overfishing a major problem. Yes, climate change is an issue but well known tuna expert Francis Marsac said it is only a contributing factor compared to overfishing which is the elephant in the room. Yellowfin and big eye tuna stocks are in serious trouble. There are still some opportunities left for skipjack and albacore fisheries, but no one knows for how long.

In the near shore areas, we have known for some time that the local artisanal fishery is fully exploited. Many stocks in peril according to the presentation by leading researcher Dr. Josh Ciner who laid out the picture for the entire region In addition, the Seychelles coral reefs which were severely bleached in 1998 don’t have much of a future. Based on the information presented by Dr. Tim Maclanahan, the ocean around Seychelles is a “hot zone”, where sea surface temperatures are predicted to increase in the future. There is very little room for maneuver to save our reefs.

The bad news is tempered by good social capital fundamentals inherent in the country.. Pioneering research, also alluded to in the keynote presentations, show that Seychelles, of all the countries in the region, may have a high socio-economic capacity to adapt to this crisis. Compared to say Kenya and Tanzania where overfishing, coral bleaching, pollution and so forth are pushing more people further down the poverty trap, the high human development index in Seychelles means that people could find solutions to the crisis.

The research results clearly demonstrate that in Seychelles we have the potential to surmount present and future environmental dangers, more so than the people in neighboring countries. But this is only a potential. It needs to be realized. Thus, the national challenge facing us in Seychelles is how to mobilize and leverage the innovation and creativity latent in our society.