- While there are only 24 registered surviving coelacanths at South Africa's large coastline, the protection of this unique fossil fish is nevertheless a nationally known aim in the country. Coelacanths are in fact to make science at large "more interesting and attractive" to South African pupils and students.
South Africa's Minister of Science and Technology, Mosibudi Mangena, today spoke at the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP) conference at Gallagher Estate, indicating the importance of coelacanth conservation and research in South Africa. The ACEP principally unites Indian Ocean countries in an effort to preserve the environment of this peculiar fish.
The colony of coelacanths in South African waters is known to be at least 24 in number. This group was only identified after South Africa was allowed to join the ACEP ten years ago, after the defeat of apartheid. South Africa there joined Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Comoros, Seychelles and Madagascar and a regional mapping of the coelacanth population was made possible.
The regional partners take a shared responsibility for ensuring the sustainability of the environment, "which has allowed this and other species to survive and flourish in the marine aquatic ecosystem off our coast," according to Science Minister Mangena.
The South African Minister however deplored the low standards of science in his country and Africa at large, given the lack of resources. "Public scientific output remains low, and in critical areas, such as securing patents, and new fields such as biotechnology and nanotechnology, there is a limited institutional capacity to respond adequately," he complained.
The African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme however stood out as an important and well-functioning "high-profile flagship programme" for science in South Africa and the region, Mr Mangena pointed out. Through ACEP, science authorities had caused popular excitement by "ships, sea exploration, sophisticated instrumentation, and new discoveries that extend the frontiers of science to capture the imagination of the youth, and inspire them to take an interest in science."
ACEP is a multidisciplinary programme integrating physical, chemical and biological sciences with technology in order to better understand the processes that sustain life, and find answers to questions that are of importance to our daily lives.
- This broad spectrum of disciplines offers a wealth of opportunities to inspire the young and old to engage with science, said Minister Mangena. "For such projects to succeed, parents, educators and learners should be made to understand the value and excitement of the careers in science," he added.
ACEP has adopted a four-step approach to capacity building based around the phrase: "Attain, train, retain, sustain." This approach was used in all sectors, from primary schools to universities and research centres to cause awareness and interest. The aim was "making science more interesting, attractive, relevant, challenging and rewarding, and inspiring learners and communities," said the Minister.
By using the high profile of the coelacanth and the mystery of exploring new frontiers of science to address the ongoing challenge of human resources in science and technology, "we are providing key elements for a future generation of scientists, who will live in a world that is much more attuned to the issues of sustainable development," according to Minister Mangena.
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