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Collaborating With African Scientists to Act on Ocean Acidification

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© Tyler Belko

The importance of solidarity and working across borders to aid the ocean is greater than ever, as highlighted at this week’s United Nations Ocean Conference. Scientists are turning to new methods to share knowledge and data, especially as part of the growing Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON). On June 8, World Oceans Day, ocean acidification scientists throughout Africa teamed up to collect ocean pH (acidity) data and connect via social media. Dr. Sam Dupont, a marine biologist at University of Gothenburg, Sweden has worked with many of these African scientists to collect ocean acidification data over the past four years. Here, Dr. Dupont talks to us about his work and OA-Africa Day (#OceanAcidificationAFRICA).

Thanks for talking with us, Sam. How did you get interested in engaging scientists around the world to collect high-quality ocean acidification measurements?

I work at a very small marine station, The Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Infrastructure – Kristineberg, on the west coast of Sweden, on a small island called Skaftö, surrounded by small villages and communities. It is a researcher’s paradise: great lab resources, amazing biodiversity and a lot of freedom. However, it is also very isolated. Scientists grow by interacting with others who challenge our ideas, expose us to new concepts and develop collaborations. Some of the coolest articles I wrote originated from coffee-break chats with guest researchers. But I also learn from traveling, so my approach to science is to work hard, be creative and be generous with my time.

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The Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Infrastructure - Kristineberg. Courtesy of Sam Dupont

Along the way I have become involved in many international ocean acidification activities such as the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC) and GOA-ON. Despite these organizations, some countries and even continents have no data on ocean acidification. Ironically, these countries are the most potentially sensitive to the expected consequences of ocean acidification. These data gaps exist because of lack of awareness on ocean acidification, a lack of infrastructure and equipment, and lack of know-how about how to make these measurements.

These critical needs sparked the capacity building program of the OA-ICC and later GOA-ON, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Ocean Foundation. These groups supported me, Prof. Andrew Dickson from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Dr. Lisa Robbins from the U.S. Geological Survey to organize and teach several courses on best practices in ocean acidification over the last 4 years in many countries in South America, Asia and Africa.

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Participant measuring pH during low tide on Inhaca Island during the Mozambique training. Courtesy of Sam Dupont

What do African scientists need most to get started researching ocean acidification?

Participants in our original Cape Town meeting pointed out that many institutions along the African coast did not have access to sufficient infrastructure and equipment or did not have the expertise to monitor and research ocean acidification.

First, we wanted to address the infrastructure and equipment problem. We needed to prove that we could do high quality ocean acidification research from scratch with limited infrastructure, equipment and budget. With the support of the OA-ICC, GOA-ON, the Swedish Secretariat for Environmental Earth System Sciences (SSEESS) and the Ocean Foundation, a group of us travelled to the Inhaca Marine Station and built a laboratory together from scratch during a training course. And when I say from scratch, I am not joking! The electricity was connected to the building the day before we began. We brought all the needed equipment and in a few days, we collected the very first data on seawater chemistry in those waters and the first data on the biological impact of ocean acidification on a local sea urchin species. We had to face many practical challenges (including unannounced cancellation of the ferry) but the training was a success.

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Ocean acidification lab in Inhaca, Mozambique. Courtesy of Sam Dupont

Tell us about the recent training workshop you helped lead in Senegal this year. How was it different?

The training in Dakar built on our experiences from all the earlier trainings in South Africa, Mozambique and Mauritius. Despite the lack of resources and infrastructure, there was a tangible positive energy in all the trainings we organized in Africa. To build on this momentum, an ocean acidification network in Africa was developed and officially launched in Dakar this year. The network is led by Dr. Warren Joubert from South Africa and Dr. Chibo Chikwililwa from Namibia. So, the Dakar meeting mixed a general training course and the first face-to-face meeting of the newly formed Ocean Acidification Africa network. Prominent researchers representing several African coastal countries discussed coordination and regional priorities for ocean acidification activities on the continent.

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Logo of the OA-Africa network

What do you think the OA-Africa network will be able to accomplish that individual scientists couldn’t?

The network aims to coordinate ocean acidification-related research and monitoring, provide information and guidance to stakeholders and policy makers, and promote and advance ocean research through outreach and capacity building initiatives.

There are many benefits of such a network. From a scientific point of view, it will be a fantastic tool to catalog experts and institutions that have specific infrastructure and equipment. It will then be easier for new scientists to get training or access the equipment they need. But there is also another important aspect to the network. As an African-led structure with strong international support, OA-Africa will have the credibility needed to attract funds for research, to increase awareness through communication, and to develop and implement solutions.

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Mohamed Elsafy organizing a public event on ocean acidification in Egypt. Courtesy of Sam Dupont

What did you hope to achieve with the African “ocean acidification day” yesterday?

As early as the Cape Town meeting, we brainstormed what we could do together. But with such contrasting needs in the different institutions, it was hard to find something useful that we could all do. One of the participants, Mohamed Elsafy from Egypt, had the brilliant idea to organize an ocean acidification sampling day. People from all over Africa would measure ocean acidification at the same time in their water with the technology available to them. Of course, the data would not be of the same quality everywhere but the activity would clearly show the strong will of African scientists to address this challenge.

Several years later in Senegal, I suggested we revive the idea for this year’s Oceans Day and the Ocean Conference in New York. Two members of the network, Andry Rasolomaharavo from Madagascar and Folasade Adeboyejo from Nigeria, volunteered to help lead the OA-Africa Ocean Acidification Day. Twenty-three African countries collected ocean acidification data yesterday to increased awareness about ocean acidification in Africa and globally.

We’ve assembled posts from the #OceanAcidificationAFRICA effort here, in Storify. See what’s happening around the African continent to measure ocean acidification!

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