Shallow Marine and Coastal Research Infrastructure


Our Platforms

The SMCRI is tapping into South Africa’s geographical advantage by providing access to cutting edge research platforms and data at appropriate spatial and temporal scales in all the coastal biogeographic regions from all three oceans to stimulate innovative research and IP generation that is of global relevance. 

SMCRI is building on the suite of observatories, sentinel site and research platforms already established and maintained by the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) and the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB). SAEON and SAIAB are jointly managing 15 SMCRI Research Platforms.

Algoa Bay Sentinel Site (ABSS)

The ABSS is the most comprehensive coastal observation network in South Africa, spanning > 300 km of coastline along the warm-temperate Agulhas Bioregion. The long-term maintenance of this network of in situ sensor moorings, acoustic receivers and ecological sampling sites enables intensive observation and research of dynamics associated with a myriad of essential ocean (EOV) and biodiversity variables (EBV), thereby making a meaningful contribution to the Global Ocean Observing System.

Two Oceans Sentinel Site (TOSS)

The TOSS is situated in the cold-temperate overlap region between the Agulhas Bioregion and the South-western Cape Bioregion and includes the coastline from Betty’s Bay to Cape Town. The TOSS includes several Kelp LTER sites. Kelp Forests are considered good biological indicators of change in sea surface temperature.

KwaZulu-Natal Bight Sentinel Site (KZNBSS)

The KZNBSS is situated in the subtropical KZN Bioregion stretching from south of Durban to Richards Bay, incorporating the entire KZN Bight. A feature of the KZNBSS is the strong flowing Tugela River that supplies large volumes of freshwater, sediment and nutrients onto the KZN Bight Shelf, acting as an important driver of the pelagic and benthic ecosystem. Another unique feature of the KZNBSS is the presence of mangrove forests in the estuaries along the coast.

Marion Island Sentinel Site (MISS)

Marion Island is one of two islands that form part of the Prince Edward Island group in the subantarctic. The island is part of the Southern Indian Ocean Islands tundra ecoregion and is surrounded by one of the world’s largest Marine Protected Areas. The islands’ climate has changed as a result of shifts in the major frontal systems and changes in oceanic circulation patterns. The SMCRI, in collaboration with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, the South African Polar Research Infrastructure, the South African National Antarctic Programme and various other research entities, will establish a suite of observatories in the coastal zone to study environmental drivers, ecological processes and change.

Satellite Sentinel Sites

To improve our understanding of South Africa’s 2 300 km long coastline, Satellite Sentinel Sites situated along the West Coast (Namaqualand), South Coast (Tsitsikamma National Park), Wild Coast (Port St Johns) and Northern KwaZulu-Natal Coast (Sodwana Bay) will be equipped with ADCPs, shallow underwater temperature records and innovative small 30 m real-time moorings. Data from these locations will fill in the gaps between the larger MetOcean Coastal Observation Moorings deployed at Sentinel Sites.

Airborne Remote Sensing Platform (ARS)

A high performance single engine, high wing light aircraft fitted with an advanced sensory package for capturing high definition digital and thermal infrared orthorectified imagery. Orthomosaics and 3-D models can be generated from these images using state of the art post-processing. The ARSP will monitor changes in vegetation, dune and shoreline migration, estuary mouth states and episodic events (e.g. Harmful Algal Blooms, oil spills, floods etc.) along the entire coastline of South Africa.

Coastal Biogeochemistry Platform

The platform currently consists of a Seal AA3 nutrient auto analyser (to measure marine and estuarine water for SiO4, NO3-, NO2-, NH4+ and PO43-), a Milli-Q water purification system (to supply Type 1 Ultra-pure water), a Turner Designs fluorometer (to measure chlorophyll-a), a Hitachi UV-Vis spectrophotometer (to measure dissolved oxygen, pH and chlorophyll-a), a Walz PHYTO-PAM fluorometer (to measure chlorophyll content and photosynthetic efficiency of microalgae), a Flash Elemental Analyser (to measure nitrogen, sulphur and carbon in sediment, organic material, seawater and on filters) and a Total Reflection X-ray fluorescence (TXRF) (to measure trace and heavy metals from Magnesium to Americium in the ppb range). The laboratory serves all the SMCRI Sentinel Sites and affiliated research projects around the coast of South Africa.

Hyperbaric Chamber Platform (HCP)

The HCP is based at the Ocean Sciences Campus of the Nelson Mandela University, Gqeberha. The chamber comprises a main lock (8-man) and an entry lock (2-man) for the purposes of getting medical personnel into the main chamber whilst keeping the occupants under constant uninterrupted pressure. Both locks are fitted with oxygen bibs, internal cameras, lighting, two-way communication, gas analysers and internal CO2 scrubbing devices. The HCP operates as a 24 hr emergency facility as well as provides training to scientific and commercial divers representing Research Dive Units of both the Nelson Mandela University and University of Cape Town. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is also provided at the facility through a Public Private Partnership with Bay Hyperbaric Medicine.

Data Management Platform (DMP)

The DMP is a combination of infrastructure, business functions and personnel dedicated to the effective management of operational and research information in support of the SMCRI mandate. The DMP broadly fulfil three functions. First, the DMP provides ICT infrastructure in support of operations. Secondly, the DMP organise and centralise operational data and objects (e.g. documents) in support of business management. Thirdly, the DMP organise, accession and distribute observational data products and packaged information in support of scientific research and decision-making. All data and data products produced by the SMCRI are openly available and provided unencumbered through free and timely access.

Science Engagement Platform

The Science Engagement Platform strives to bridge the gap between formal education and community development through awareness initiatives such as job shadowing opportunities and engagement at Career Festivals, National Science Week, National Marine Week and Ocean Sciences Tours activities. Educational outreach seeks to expose and nurture grade 9, 10 and 11 learners to scientific activities, to raise their awareness and enhance their scientific skills. Science camps offer hands-on experience opportunities to both learners and educators to engage in real science and develop scientific knowledge and skills whilst interacting with role models and practicing scientists. Mentorship by SMCRI staff is also offered to learners competing at education symposia and in particular at the ESKOM Science Expo for Young Scientists.

South African Estuaries LTER Platform

The South African Estuaries LTER Platform contributes to a national effort to gather long-term environmental data in key estuaries throughout South Africa. The SMCRI currently maintains CT-sensors measuring temperature and salinity at an hourly rate, in six estuaries along the southern coast spanning the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces. These systems are visited by SMCRI staff and students on a quarterly basis to maintain moorings, to download data from sensors and to sample additional water column variables (physico-chemical, chlorophyll-a and nutrients) at multiple stations within each estuary. Rod Set Elevation Tables mounted in selected estuaries monitor sediment accretion over time as a means to determine whether our estuaries are able to keep pace with sea level rise linked to changing climates.

South African National Coastal Temperature Network (NCTN)

The NCTN is a distributed network of coastal shallow underwater temperature loggers (<5m depth) spanning the entire coastline of South Africa. Temperature is in most instances measured in situ at an hourly rate, giving vital information on how temperature varies over time at a regional scale. These data assist with understanding trends in the distribution of nearshore organisms, how communities are spatially delineated in relation to temperature as well as their responses to extreme low and high temperature events. The NCTN is a collaboration with KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, South African Weather Services, University of the Western Cape and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.

Coastal Craft Platform (CCP)

The Coastal Craft Platform will consist of three research vessels (> 9 m, < 25 tonne) based at two of the three Sentinel Sites. These Coastal Craft are fully equipped with scientific instruments for carrying out oceanographic work, plankton sampling, benthic surveys, invertebrate collections, fishing, diving, sediment collection, habitat and benthic mapping. The three vessels are CC Phakisa (based at the KZN-Bight Sentinel Site), CC uKwabelana (based at KZN-Bight Sentinel Site) and CC Observer (based at the Algoa Bay Sentinel Site).

Acoustic Tracking Array Platform (ATAP)

The ATAP hosted by the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (NRF-SAIAB), provides acoustic telemetry hardware to facilitate the large-scale, long-term monitoring of acoustically tagged marine animals. The ATAP has had an average of 179 active acoustic receiver stations per year, and currently spans approximately 2200 km of the South African coastline. The focal monitoring sites are three large coastal embayments, with additional receivers deployed in the nearshore environment along the majority of the South African coastline, including (from west to east) Walker Bay, Gansbaai, Plettenberg Bay, Port Alfred, Port St Johns, Protea Banks, Jesser Point and Ponta do Ouro at the South Africa-Mozambique border, as well as 21 estuaries throughout the region.

Marine Remote Imagery Platform (MAR-IP)

The MAR-IP offers underwater imaging equipment for exploratory and quantitative benthic, demersal and pelagic surveys of marine biota. This includes a SAAB Seaeye Falcon remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and variety of benthic and pelagic stereo-baited remote underwater video (sBRUVs), diver operated video (sDOV) and multi-imaging drop camera systems.