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Marine robots aim to solve Africa’s vanishing fish enigma

East and Southern African researchers will get help from marine robots to investigate why some fish stocks are crashing in the western Indian Ocean.

The project is one of 37 earmarked for funding by Research Council UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund on 21 July.

The project will delve into an unexplained phenomenon that occurred in 2013 when South Africa’s squid fishing industry collapsed, leaving thousands jobless. It will aim to prevent a similar disaster off the coast of East Africa, where the economy is heavily dependent on fishing.

The UK National Oceanography Centre’s Michael Roberts will lead the four-year project, which will have significant African participation. It will use earth observation, robotics and ocean modeling to monitor the African coast.

Roberts told a conference earlier this month that the project will entail an “innovation bridge” where centres of excellence will be set up in Africa. Researchers will benefit from technology from the NOC and the University of Southampton. According to Roberts, the use of robotic underwater vehicles will overcome Africa’s lack of expensive high-end research vessels.

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa will host a regional centre of excellence, which will act as a hub for technologies and skills training. This will later branch out to the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute in Mombasa and the Institute of Marine Sciences and WIMOSA, a research NGO, in Zanzibar.

“[The project is] a brand new, large-scale ocean physics-to-fish-to-people project that tackles these challenges by growing people-based marine research capability in these countries using latest technologies,” Roberts said at the conference.