The new $80 million research vessel Dr Fridtjof Nansen will replace an older craft of the same name that has been navigating the coast of Africa since 1993, carrying out in-depth research into the state of the continent’s marine ecosystems for the EAF-Nansen Project, the latest phase of a unique 40-year programme.
The project works with 32 coastal countries in Africa to help them obtain detailed information on their marine resources so that they can develop fisheries management plans, with a focus on maintaining ecosystem health and productivity.
Scientists from the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (IMR) and participating African countries aboard the boat use 3D imagery to map the seabed and gather vast quantities of data on fish stocks, water and sediment quality, surveying the entire ecosystem from seabirds to fish and from whales to minute plants (phytoplankton) and animals (zooplankton).
“What makes this project unique is that developing countries take ownership of the information collected,” said EAF-Nansen Project Coordinator Kwame Koranteng. “The overall goal is to enable countries to make their own assessments and prepare and implement fisheries management plans, which are critical for marine resources threatened by overfishing, pollution and climate change.”
In coming years the project will extend its efforts to focus on the impacts of climate change and pollution, including environmental monitoring on offshore oil and gas mining activities.
“We hope the project will contribute, among other things, to answering the key question of how climate change will affect the distribution and abundance of marine species, which is a critical issue for the livelihoods of millions of people,” said Árni M. Mathiesen, FAO Assistant Director-General for Fisheries and Aquaculture.
Funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), the project is run by FAO with the scientific support of IMR, and collaborates with national and regional institutions and other UN agencies.
Life aboard the Dr Fridtjof Nansen can be tough, with activities carried out 24 hours a day in six hour shifts – from trawling and collecting samples to recording and analyzing data.
But conditions will improve with the new vessel, which at 70 metres long will be more spacious and even better equipped, with berths for 45 scientists, technicians and crew.
Expected to launch in 2016, the vessel will house seven laboratories, an auditorium, the latest sonar equipment to map fish distribution and a remotely-operated underwater vehicle to take vivid pictures of life on the ocean floor.
State-of-the-art equipment including a dynamic positioning system will enable it to work safely around sensitive infrastructure such as oil rigs, while a lookout compartment will be positioned on the main mast for surveys of seabirds and marine mammals.
As a direct result of the project and with technical guidance from FAO, 16 countries in Africa have developed management plans for their fisheries.
These include Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo, which have collaborated to prepare plans to minimize damage caused by beach seine fisheries in their respective countries and in the sub-region, and Cameroon, Gabon and Nigeria, which have similarly worked on industrial shrimp fisheries in coastal Middle Africa.
On the other side of the continent, countries working on fisheries management plans include Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles and Tanzania.
The next step is to help countries to implement their management plans, said Koranteng. “The presence of the R/V Dr Fridtjof Nansen in the waters of developing countries has resulted in greater understanding of the need to manage marine resources sustainably and also provides a common language with which people are able to communicate at a regional and often a global level,” he said.
Thorough surveys of marine life have resulted in an additional benefit: the discovery of new species. In recent years, scientists have found a new goatfish, named Parupeneus nansen, discovered off coast of Mozambique, and six new species of marine snail found off the Gulf of Guinea.