Photo: supplied by WILDOCEANS. For more information on some of the collaborative research undertaken by NRF-SAIAB, ACEP and WILDOCEANS visit http://www.saiab.ac.za/research.htm
A team of marine scientists from various South African marine organisations and a film-crew from Off the Fence (OTF) nature and wildlife film production company have begun a trip in search for the coelacanth, South Africa’s “dinosaur fish”.
The scientists and film-crew left Durban for their two-week research and filming expedition, sailing on a 72-foot wooden expedition research yacht, Angra Pequena (@AngraPequena). This notable project has received funding support from the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to assist researchers in exploring the underwater canyons off Sodwana Bay, in KwaZulu-Natal. Using this unique platform for marine research, scientific training and conservation, they anticipate they will find and film coelacanths using remote underwater video equipment as they fully explore the deep canyons ecosystem that the coelacanths inhabit.
The coelacanth was believed to have been extinct for about 65 million years until a specimen was found in trawl nets off the Chalumna River, near East London in 1938. The long search for living coelacanths off the South African coast continued until 18 years ago when deep-water divers found six living coelacanths in the Jesser and Wright canyons off the coast of Sodwana Bay. Following this discovery, the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP – @ACEP_ZA) managed by the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB – @NRF_SAIAB) has since confirmed the presence of at least 32 coelacanths in the area.
Dr Angus Paterson, managing director of SAIAB, said: “The significance of the coelacanth is that it is seminal to our identity and important in continuing our research quest. What is interesting about this cruise is that it involves a local environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO), WILDOceans, which links to the strengths that SAIAB and ACEP harness in furthering marine ecology and the improvement of knowledge of marine ecosystems in South Africa”.
The OTF production company will be filming off Sodwana as part of the first episode of a documentary series entitled “Our Oceans: Dinosaurs in the Deep”. The series will document a range of threats to the coelacanth’s ecosystem from overfishing to mining, pollution and climate change, threats encountered by all the world’s oceans.