Last week, as WIOMSA President, I presided over the opening of the 8th edition of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Symposium held in Maputo, Mozambique. This week -long gathering of over 400 scientists from the Southern & Eastern African and Western Indian Ocean countries and beyond, is the largest and most prestigious event of its kind in the region. Keynote lectures, Special Sessions, as well as over a hundred presentations of research results and rooms full of scientific posters by local scientists were the highlights. This was the 8th edition. Organised by WIOMSA it has been going on since 1997.
However, there was no representation from Seychelles, except for myself. Seychellois are always under-represented in this Symposium, but a couple of years ago at the 7th Symposium 2 young Seychellois scientists were acclaimed for their research. At this current edition of the Symposium, the largest one ever, I was the only Seychellois delivering results of marine science work.
The seeming paucity of marine and coastal science in Seychelles was noticed by leading scientists and does not bode well for the development of the Blue Economy. The Seychelles government has placed the concept of the Blue Economy at the forefront of its vision for the future. There are many challenges and issues to be clarified relating to the Blue Economy because this is such a new idea.
As a new development concept, the Blue Economy needs to be unpacked. We need to know what’s under its hood, how it works and how to fuel it. The Blue Economy cannot be new branding for “business as usual”. Definitely, no one wants to see old wine in a new bottle.
The entire concept and practice of the Blue Economy needs research and development – R&D. A raft of disciplines from natural to social sciences needs to be involved . Because Seychelles is driving this innovation, the country needs to build its capacity to undertake at least some of the R&D. At the moment, judging from the number of marine-related papers published in scientific journals and from the participation of Seychellois scientists at marine science symposia like the WIOMSA one in Maputo, that capacity is lacking.
How do we build the capacity? The University of Seychelles has relevant degree courses but it will be some time before young undergraduates can conduct cutting-edge research. The development part will also need a new type of technocrat. Are these being trained or groomed?
There are many questions and no easy answers. But, the easiest solution is to build partnerships with national NGOs, international academic and research institutions and the private sector, where capacity may exist already.WIOMSA already acts as a knowledge hub, research funder and partnership builder. What better vehicle in our region to assist in demystifying the Blue Economy?
At a time when all other countries of the region are scaling up their marine R&D, Seychelles must also look to forging deeper bilateral cooperation, otherwise it may be left behind. Mauritius has recently established a National Ocean Economy Task Force to oversee implementation of the Ocean Economy Roadmap, supported by a new Office for Ocean Affairs and Development, both in the Prime Minsters Office (in addition to the existing fisheries department and the well known Mauritius Oceanographic Institute). Last week, Kenya week took possession of a new marine research vessel – my fellow WIOMSA Board Member, Principal Secretary of the State Department of Fisheries, Prof. Micheni Ntiba handed the vessel over to the Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI). Other countries bordering the Indian ocean are not standing still – in September this year India inducted a state-of-the-art vessel for “…embarking upon a new chapter for survey and exploration in Indian and international waters”.
Adapted from Gaia, the author’s column in The People newspaper