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Last of four ‘transformative’ marine science labs launched


Five-year programme aims to boost marine research in formerly disadvantaged universities in South Africa

The last of four refurbished marine research labs has been launched in South Africa, completing the construction phase of a five-year, R18 million (US$1m) programme to strengthen marine sciences in previously disadvantaged universities.

The launch took place on 24 January at Walter Sisulu University’s Mthatha campus in the Eastern Cape province.

The other three labs constructed under the Joint Marine Laboratories programme were launched in 2022 and 2023 at the University of Zululand, KwaZulu-Natal, the University of the Western Cape and the University of Fort Hare in Alice, also in the Eastern Cape.

All four of the universities cater to mostly low-income students who would not have had many educational opportunities under South Africa’s racist apartheid regime. While apartheid formally ended three decades ago, many of its effects on the country’s education landscape remain. 

“The overall mission of JML is to bridge the resource gap and create opportunities for success by providing innovative solutions and the establishment of modern and cutting-edge, state-of-the-art research platforms at these universities,” said Albert Chakona, acting managing director at the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, which implements the programme.

“What started as an idea and visionary initiative has blossomed into a thriving community, united by the collective passion in education to push the boundaries of knowledge and drive innovation, and particularly promoting inclusivity in the academic landscape,” he said in a statement.

Additional funds

In addition to the R4.5 million each university received as part of the programme to upgrade their marine science laboratories and equip them, they also get R150,000 each per year to pay for the running costs.

The labs all have different research focuses. The Walter Sisulu lab will focus on coastal livelihoods, while the University of Zululand studies marine and estuarine toxicology. The Western Cape lab studies micro plastics, while the lab at the University of Fort Hare performs bioprospecting for marine resources that could be used in pharmaceuticals.

A spokesperson for the National Research Foundation told Research Professional News that the researchers working at the labs can apply for an African Coelacanth Ecosystem Phulisa Programme call for funding for student projects that comes out annually. These are worth R40,000 per year for PhD students, and R25,000 and R10,000 per year for master’s and honours’ students, respectively.