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A new tool for detecting harmful algal blooms before it’s too late

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A harmful Algal blooms (HABS) detection tool, developed by the CSIR, has recently gone live. This is the first Decision Support tool on the Oceans and Coast Information Management System (OCIMS) to be made available to users. This initiative forms part of Government’s Operation Phakisa Oceans Economy policy implementation. The CSIR is supporting the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in building South Africa’s Ocean and Coast Information Management System.

Contact Person

Bandile Sikwane

+27 12 841 3746

bsikwane@csir.co.za

A harmful Algal blooms (HABS) detection tool, developed by the CSIR, has recently gone live. This is the first Decision Support tool on the Oceans and Coast Information Management System (OCIMS) to be made available to users. This initiative forms part of Government’s Operation Phakisa Oceans Economy policy implementation. The CSIR is supporting the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in building South Africa’s Ocean and Coast Information Management System.

The tool detects HABS, more commonly known as ‘red tides’, in South African coastal waters. “These are natural occurring phenomena caused by dense accumulation of microscopic algae,” says CSIR’s Dr Stewart Bernard, the chief scientist behind the remote sensing products used in the system. “They are harmful in two ways: Collapse of large blooms can create low oxygen conditions that suffocate marine life; some HAB species contain toxins poisonous to humans and marine creatures,” he states.

“The tool, which is in Beta version, is currently providing HAB alerts based on data from National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer sensor at 1 km resolution, with supporting sea surface temperature products blended from several satellites, typically about 24 hours after acquisition,” says Dr Bernard.

“The next step in the development of the tool is to add more sophisticated products from the new generation of European Sentinel satellites. This will take place within the next few months,” he says. “The tool also aims to be very easy and intuitive to use for a wide range of users and development is ongoing to achieve this,” he adds.

A multidisciplinary effort

The new HAB tool is already being systematically used by the aquaculture industry and is set to play a significant role in South African aquaculture development – a key domain for the Phakisa Oceans policy.

“It took the combined science and technological capabilities within the CSIR to create an operational system that can cover the wide areas and high temporal updates for this Decision Support Tool,” says CSIR’s Lee Annamalai, who is also the contract manager for the development of the DEA OCIMS. “This is a locally developed Earth observation data analytics solution that is able to provide much needed information to the aquaculture industry to aid in reducing their economic losses due to environmental risk,” says Annamalai.

In 2015, a very large HAB off the west coast of South Africa killed more than 200 metric tons of West Coast Rock Lobster. According to the DEA, South Africa has lost approximately R164 million worth of Rock Lobster due to HABS since 2015.

Contact:

Dr Stewart Bernard
Email: sbernard@csir.co.za
Tel: +21 658 2755

Lee Annamalai
Email: lannamalai@csir.co.za
Tel: +12 841 4546

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