Hans Verheye - Survey Leader and Head of Biological Oceanography, Cape Town

The BC-CPR Sister Survey in the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem (BCLME)

Newspaper clipping from The Plymouth Herald, 19 February 2011

At the conclusion in 2007 of the BENEFIT and BCLME Programmes, two regional research and capacity building initiatives in the Benguela Current ecosystem, a regular long-term, ecosystem-wide CPR survey, was identified as a cost-effective means of ecological monitoring of the highly variable and dynamic Benguela Current region through systematic plankton monitoring.

It was recognised that this form of survey would provide advice to the governments of Angola, Namibia and South Africa on a number of marine management issues. These include the management of the ecosystem, with particular regard to transboundary resources, their biodiversity, and the transboundary impacts of maritime activities such as fishing, pollution, eutrophication, mining, oil and gas exploration and extraction, shipping and the introduction of alien invasive species and toxic algal species in ballast water, as well as the effects of climate change on the oceans influencing the BCLME.

In November 2009, this recognition led to the Benguela Current Commission (BCC) granting seed money to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to develop, through a partnership with SAHFOS, a regional sister survey. The aims of the BCC Project were to establish a regional CPR Survey and CPR Centre in the BCLME, with local capacity to maintain a self-financing, long-term, regular CPR sister survey that will produce regular quasi-synoptic maps of Phytoplankton Colour Index (PCI) and indices of abundance and diversity of phyto- and zooplankton taxa off Angola, Namibia and South Africa. Thereby, providing input into national State-of-Marine-Environment Reports and the regional State of the Ecosystem Information System (S.E.I.S.) and yielding data that will be integrated into the global CPR database.

The CV Horizon, a container vessel of Ocean Africa Container Lines, committed to regular, long-term towing of the BC-CPR between Luanda and Durban.

Around mid-September 2010, the BC region obtained its first CPR body (#189) and five internal plankton sampling mechanisms, purchased by DEA, demonstrating the department's commitment to CPR surveying in the region. In February 2011, two marine research technicians from South Africa and Namibia attended an intensive operational CPR training course at SAHFOS.

Subsequent discussions between SAHFOS and Dr Hans Verheye (DEA), the New Survey Leader, led to the agreement that quarterly tows be done between Luanda in northern Angola and Port Elizabeth/Durban on the South African south coast, thus traversing ca. 2,500 nautical miles in waters influenced by the cold Benguela Current (BC) and the warm Angola and Agulhas Currents, which bound it in the north and south respectively.

Soon thereafter, the Hong Kong-registered CV Horizon, trading on the Luanda-Durban route, was identified as a suitable ship-of-opportunity. Her owners (Denor Shipping Co., Hong Kong), operators (Shangai Costamare Ship Management Co., Ltd), and agents (Ocean Africa Container Lines), as well as the Master (Capt. Zhang Guangru) and his all-Chinese crew are all willing to participate in this long-term CPR Survey, accentuating their 'green' credentials with the international community.

Capt. Zhang Guangru, Master of the CV Horizon; Dr Hans Verheye, BC-CPR Survey Leader, and Mr Liu Gru Zou,Chief-Officer of the CV Horizon.

Perhaps the most significant milestone of this developmental project thus far was the inauguration of the BC-CPR Sister Survey. The CV Horizon left the port of Luanda on 22 September, and soon after her departure, the first BC-CPR was launched, concomitantly with the celebrations of the 80th Anniversary of the CPR Survey in the North Sea on 15-16 September 1931, which were held during the 'Plankton 2011' Symposium in Plymouth on 22-23 September 2011.

Subsequent inspection of the silks revealed that all five tows were successful. Samples from these tows will be analysed by SAHFOS staff and used as training material during a training course for sample analysts scheduled for next year, after which samples from subsequent tows will be analysed by local analysts at the regional CPR Centre in Cape Town.

Diagram showing the approximate track (black line) of the first set of 5 CPR tows deployed from the CV Horizon in the BCLME region in September 2011; the latitudes/longitudes of the start and end positions and the distance covered by each tow are also shown. The track is superimposed onto a modelled SST output (April 2007) only to illustrate the trajectory of the CPR through water masses influenced by the three current systems (Angola, Benguela and Agulhas Currents) governing the region's oceanography, productivity and biodiversity.