Project Title: The role of marine ecosystems in improving water quality in rapidly urbanizing coastal regions
Host Organisation: University of Cape Town, South Africa
Coastal regions that are home to large human populations are subject to significant pressures such as pollution, habitat destruction, resource depletion (e.g., overfishing), and climate change. They also support the livelihoods of millions of people through subsistence fishing, seafood harvesting, and tourism. In many urbanized coastal regions in sub-Saharan Africa population growth is rapid as people seek opportunities near cities. A persistent problem associated with this is a decrease in coastal water quality due to pollution from sewage, agriculture (e.g., pesticides and fertilizers), and industry. My project is aimed at identifying and tracking the sources of pollution to rapidly urbanizing coastal regions. The methods that I plan to use could be applied to many such regions in Africa, but I am using as a model South Africa’s largest natural bay, False Bay, which is popular with fishers, divers, and recreational beach users. I am also interested in understanding how mussels, the most abundant marine organisms in the intertidal zone, help to remove pollutants that run into the bay from land, thereby purifying the water. I aim to use the lessons learnt to develop fast and simple ways of communicating the state of the bay’s water quality (e.g., good, poor) to people who rely on it for food. In this way, my work will help people make safer decisions about the food they harvest. In addition, information from the project will help government decide where to locate Marine Protected Areas designed to preserve our shared environment and protect our natural resources.