Beneath the warm coastal waters of tropical and subtropical East Africa lie some of the richest coral reefs in the world.
Spanning many hundreds of kilometres, they’re home to an incredible array of fish communities and support millions of people surviving off the coastline.
Within these systems are large networks of marine protected areas (MPA’s), but no one is collecting data on the scale required to plan for their futures. Many land-based expeditions have been implemented to catalogue or collect data across entire continents so we thought to ourselves, ‘Why not do the same in the ocean?’ And so the idea of the East Africa Marine Transect was born.
View introductory video below:
Earlier this year there was an event called TEDxSeaPoint where Dr. Caine Delacy presented his method for capturing underwater data called stereo-imaging. During his talk, imaginations were sparked.
United by the idea, a little team naturally came together and decided to make it a reality. We thought, ‘what if we use stereo-imaging technology to dive and film transects spanning from Mozambique to Kenya to provide the first baseline assessment of the underwater fauna spanning the length of the East African marine ecosystem?’, and then open source the entire thing, effectively giving it away for free to anyone interested.
For four months our team of six will all be living in a 70′ft mono-hull yacht, making it an office and home, all in the name of the East African Marine Transect (EAMT).
The underlying belief of the EAMT crew is that information is key to creating awareness within the scientific community and the public. We want the data collected to be accessible to everyone from school kids and university students, to NGO’s, politicians and MPA managers. The users are essentially unlimited. We think that this data can inspire solutions, strategies and constructive outcomes for East African coral reef fishes, and even more so if it reaches all levels of society.
It’s not a documentary on what is wrong with the East African coral reef ecosystem. It’s an expedition to provide essential baseline data and solutions for management and conservation.
We envision this becoming a globally deployable strategy where each coastline or major coral reef network around the globe can be studied in such a way. It is a standardized survey tool which could be repeated annually, thus enabling comparisons of data over the years.
The cheap, low-cost, contextualized technology ensures smaller national-scale surveys can continue adding to the data set. The benefits of publicising this information will extend beyond the period of data collection, as the imagery will provide a permanent record of the states of these marine communities and ecosystems.
Our EAMT team is a very diverse bunch of young people. Mike Markovina heads up the expedition. He is a fisheries scientist who roams the East African coastline with the Smart Fish Program, attempting to combat illegal fisheries.
Rhett Bennett is head of our science and research. He studies Ichthyology (fishereis science) at Rhodes University, where he met Mike. The two are affectionately known as fish nerd #1 and #2.
Mike’s wife (as of a month ago), Linda is the media liaison and a self-confessed twitter-nut and Tanith Grant, a Geographic Information System (GIS) guru and MSc Zoology grad, are the only two ladies in the core team.
We also have a token Australian, Dr. Caine Delacy, who’s method of seteo imaging will be used on all the dives to collect the data. He’ll also be working on the science and research.
Justin Beswick, the man-with-the-plan where fundraising is concerned rounds off the six permanent team members. For some stretches of water we’ll host ‘visiting experts’ who’ll add their voices to the blog pot as we go.
We also have the crew of Lo Entropy with us – who’ll be introduced as we get to know them better.
This trip is not just about exploration- it is about looking at the relationship between humanity, our marine environment, science, technology and cultures in order to shift in the way we build or begin to build our conservation networks on coral reefs.
We will also be testing an OpenROV, a “Do It Yourself”, low-cost telerobotic submarine that has been built with mostly off-the-shelf parts, to democratize exploration by allowing anyone to explore and study underwater environments simply and cheaply.
Currently we are sitting in a backpacker in a rather damp Durban. The boat is moored and covered in all manner of paraphernalia – lets just hope we will be ready to set sail on Monday, our d-day to avoid hurricane season up past Mozambique. Our team is scattered far and wide, with four of us in Durban having spent the past three days driving all the gear up from Cape Town. Justin is still in Cape Town, flying in on Thursday and Caine is arriving in Durban fresh off a plan from Denvor in the U.S.
It’s going to be a mad dash for the starting line with everyone working overtime to get the team and the boat ready – hold thumbs and hope the weather takes a turn for the better.
Africa Geographic is publishing The Human Ocean blog series, which will chronicle this expedition for all the readers out there interested in our progress in real time!