South African Journal of Science
On-line version ISSN 1996-7489
South Africa uniquely lies at the junction of two major currents, the Agulhas and the Benguela. The waters overlying the continental shelf exhibit exceptionally high short-, medium- and long-term (days to inter-decadal) variability compared with most other shelf areas, and strongly contrasting oceanographic conditions are observed on the east and west coasts. South Africa is rich in fisheries resources and associated environmental data collected over more than a century. The South African marine scientific community has a history of multidisciplinary studies of marine foodwebs, from the driving forces such as wind, currents and solar heating, to the top predators, with the development of kelp bed, sub-tidal reefs and estuarine ecosystem studies in the 1970s; the Benguela Ecology Programme, which ran through four successive five-year stages, focused on the pelagic marine resources. Various approaches have been used to observe the continental shelf at different time and space scales, including: macroscale but frequent satellite imagery, mesoscale environmental and fishery surveys, dedicated cross-shelf transects in key areas, measurements of dynamic processes, use of moored buoys and coastal weather stations, and integrated monitoring approaches, including modelling and simulation studies. Between 30 and 50 years of comprehensive marine data now exist, which are proving useful in the application of an ecosystem approach to fisheries monitoring and management, as decadal changes become discernible. These observations need to continue; even though the single-species stock assessment and operational management procedures have not yet formally used environmental factors for fisheries management advice, they help us to understand the factors affecting fish population fluctuations and early life histories and to identify large-scale regime shifts where marine trophic structure and functioning alter to a new state.
Keywords : marine environment; indicators; fisheries; Benguela; Agulhas Bank.