Coast to Canyon: Understanding Cross-Shelf Ecosystem Functioning in the KZN Bight, by linking Geological, Biological and Physical Processes

Oceanic surface waters off the African east coast are traditionally characterised as oligotrophic, emphasising the importance of localised fluvial and upwelling processes in driving marine food webs. The KZN Bight provides such an example, with nutrient inputs likely to originate from a combination of an upwelling cell off Richards Bay, the Thukela River, and a cyclonic lee eddy off Durban. Although some aspects of the physico-chemical structure and functioning of the Bight (geology, oceanography, water column nutrients) have received some scientific attention, there remains a poor understanding of how these physico-chemical processes impact on the Bight’s ecosystem functioning. Even an inventory of the region’s biodiversity is fragmentary and the information is largely outdated. The primary aim of the proposed work is thus to develop an understanding of how different material sources drive the Bight’s ecological functioning and biodiversity. Not only is this important for humans from the perspective of the far-reaching consequences of proposed impoundments on the Thukela River and the sustainability of local fisheries in the vicinity, but this project also presents an opportunity to describe, and ultimately assign conservation importance to rare and/or important marine fauna as well as unique shelf habitats.

A series of publications on the findings of the KZN Bight project is being prepared. Click here for the full list.