Case study: Coastal Risk Information Service (C-RISe) – Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa (historic)

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“Knowing real-time meteorological parameters and having access to suitable information has given us the opportunity to understand and improve maritime analyses in terms of maritime incidents.”

– Captain Franck Razafindraibe, Director of the National Maritime Information Fusion Centre (NMIFC), Madagascar

Summary

Coastal communities are exposed to an increase in the frequency and intensity of weather-related phenomena, such as sea surges, cyclones and flooding, due to climate change. The predictability of such events can be improved with knowledge gained from the acquisition and analysis of satellite-derived data on oceanic and atmospheric variables. However, the skills to perform such analyses and to harness their potential to benefit on-the-ground scenarios and mitigate risks are not widespread.

The C-RISe project has sought to improve this situation by offering training opportunities to coastal management practitioners in southern Africa through courses on how to acquire necessary open-access datasets (hosted by South Africa) and licence-free analytical software. Further training on how to apply such datasets and analytical skills to resolving specific challenges locally was delivered via the choice of 27 real-world cases from coastal settings in Mozambique and Madagascar.

Coverage of C-Rise programme
Coverage of the C-RISe programme. The area within the light blue box gives the overall coverage of the programme, red lines represent ground tracks for Jason-series Earth Observation satellites, and yellow pins are tide gauge locations against which satellite data can be validated.

Applications covered a broad spectrum of topics linked to environmental protection, ecosystems management, fisheries management, health and safety at sea, as well as ongoing development and disaster prevention initiatives. Nine of these cases have been identified as having an impact, and findings from this work have been shared regionally, fostering further collaboration with Mauritius.

The challenges encountered during this project have largely pivoted on the age and computational capacity of available hardware in the region, as well as on the diversity of software versions still in use. Upgrading computational capacity to a common useable standard whilst also being limited by slow and intermittent connectivity to the internet – hampering access to data and training materials – has been a significant challenge.

The issue

The coastal populations of Southwest Indian Ocean nations are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather events brought about by climate change. In particular, there are climate-sensitive, economically important coastal resources, such as port and aquaculture infrastructures, as well as ecologically important habitats that are exposed to the sea surges associated with evermore frequent and forceful cyclones.

Access to regional data on coastal risk factors (i.e., sea level change and wave and wind extremes) can support plans to protect coastal communities and safeguard economic activity. This information can also contribute to improving industrial and commercial competitiveness in the maritime sector (e.g., by improving maritime navigation security, or by monitoring seawater quality, pollution or toxic algal blooms in relation to coastal fisheries).

Training workshop participants in Madagascar Training workshop participants in Mozambique
Training workshop participants in Madagascar and Mozambique

However, access and use of such data are hampered by limited technical capacity locally, with knock-on effects on the region’s ability to provide support for scientific decision-making regarding strategy development, governance and management of coastal areas and building resilience to coastal hazards.

The development of local capacity to access and use available data alongside other information sources is necessary to ensure a viable long-term service to manage coastal risks, mitigate potential losses and improve self-sufficiency.

The response

The Coastal Risk Information Service (C-RISe) was created – in partnership with Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and South Africa – to facilitate access to satellite-derived data on sea levels, wind speeds and wave heights and to build local capacity for data analysis and application.

The goal was to enable stakeholders to improve socioeconomic resilience to coastal hazards associated with sea level changes such as floods, storm damage, wetland loss, habitat change, coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion.

C-RISe was funded by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) under the International Partnership Programme, whose aim is to deliver a sustainable, economic or societal benefit to developing countries and economies by identifying space solutions to solve their specific development challenges and so increase their capacity.

C-RISe’s objectives were threefold:

  • Deliver a coastal risk information service, providing satellite-derived information about sea levels, winds and waves to support coastal vulnerability assessment and hazard management efforts.
  • Apply and evaluate the C-RISe service through the application of its products to selected real-world scenarios that address local priorities.
  • Build local capacity to use satellite data to provide scientific decision support for strategy development, governance and management of coastal areas to increase resilience to coastal hazards.

The C-RISe programme ran from 2016 to 2019, although its success generated further interest and additional funding from UKSA during its legacy period (March 2020-March 2021), enabling the acquisition and inclusion of higher resolution spatial data. A bid to expand the extent of the project was not successful; this option continues to be explored.

Partnerships and support

The C-RISe partnership comprised three contributors from the United Kingdom (Satellite Oceanographic Consultants Ltd, the National Oceanography Centre and Bilko Development Ltd) and ten international contributors from southern Africa: the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa; the Mozambique Hydrographic Office; Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Mozambique; the Madagascar Meteorological Office; the National Oceanographic Research Centre, Madagascar; the Institute of Fisheries and Marine Science within the University of Toliara, Madagascar; the National Maritime Information Fusion Centre, Madagascar; the University of Mauritius; WWF Madagascar Country Office; and Conservation International.

Support for the partnership came from the UKSA’s International Partnership Programme funded by the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, which supports challenge-led interdisciplinary research while strengthening capability for research, innovation and knowledge exchange.

Whilst funding for the initial three-year C-RISe programme ended in 2019, programme leaders have continued to investigate a range of potential funding options that centre on opportunities for C-RISe to work with other organisations, initiatives and donors in southern Africa, West Africa and the Caribbean. As of April 2021, a joint bid to continue work with partners in Madagascar is awaiting a final decision.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

Following five introductory and training workshops using C-RISe data, African coastal and marine scientists selected 27 applications (16 in Madagascar, 9 in Mozambique, 2 in Mauritius) with which to embed the skills they learnt into their organisations for the long term. Applications covered a broad spectrum of topics linked to environmental protection, ecosystems management, fisheries management, better understanding of sea state and safety at sea. Specific examples include:

  • Sea state information for improving maritime navigation security and safety for Madagascar
  • Marine protected area management (Nosy Hara and Ambodivahibe) in Madagascar
  • Impact of coastal climate change on mangroves on Madagascar’s west coast
  • Pollution from rare earth metal mining in Madagascar
  • Wave climatology for the Mozambique channel
  • Analysis of regional variability in sea-level change in Mozambique’s coastal seas
  • Effects of climate variability on semi-industrial shrimp catches in Maputo Bay, Mozambique

Results from all 27 cases were shared at regional workshops and conferences in Madagascar, Mauritius and Mozambique, allowing attendees to understand how data can be used whilst also fostering local cross-organisational partnerships. Nine applications have already been identified as having achieved significant impact by enhancing local capabilities, strengthening resilience towards natural hazards and improving management of protected areas, and all of them are available publicly via the C-RISe website.

The impact from these applications has included:

  • Enabling law enforcement in cases of drug trafficking and illegal migration;
  • Improved management of mangroves and reefs;
  • Improved management of Marine Protected Areas, leading to their expansion.

A set of comprehensive training resources has also been made available online, which includes introductory materials, examples of applications for earth observation data, software installation instructions and capacity development tools.

WWF Madagascar Use Case
Results of the WWF Madagascar Use Case to analyse vulnerability of mangrove forest at Ambaro Bay.

Challenges

A major limitation to the implementation of the programme and the pace of work was intermittent and slow internet connectivity. This can severely compromise access to and acquisition of satellite data resources as well as access to the free, open-source analytical software on which the programme depends. Hand-to-hand sharing of datasets via portable disk drives helped overcome this issue, but this temporary solution is not compatible with the long-term sustainability and legacy of the programme. The age and computational capacity of available hardware, as well as the lack of up-to-date software versions, were also limiting.

In-country training was limited to the duration of visits by. implementing partners using training datasets. This did not always allow for in-depth road-testing of acquired skills with real data and adequate support. Necessarily remote and protracted training sessions in 2020, however, allowed participants time to apply their training between sessions while still being supervised.

When governments change, the leadership of key government partner agencies can also change. Building strong relationships with managers at lower levels within partner organisations was vital to re-establishing contacts with leadership following any restructuring.

Key lessons learnt

  • The need for reliable data and the skills with which to use them is well recognised throughout the region, although the breadth of potential for the application of such data is underestimated. The creation of compelling narratives and the connection of earth observation data to clearly defined, policy-relevant questions can only help emphasise the value and benefits of existing data resources as well as promote the acquisition of valuable skills locally to harness those benefits. Showing how C-RISe data can complement data from other sources to resolve policy challenges can enhance their potential for impact.
  • Engaging actors with knowledge of policy issues to ensure maximum impact is also paramount. Policy briefs are being compiled to further engage managers and politicians to expose and promote the range of issues that can be addressed by initiatives such as C-RISe, especially with the availability of data and improved local capacity to use them.
  • Improved connectivity, communication and prolonged skill and information sharing within and between countries in the Southwest Indian Ocean offer significant benefits to the region’s overall prosperity and collective ability to address impending challenges.

Lead contacts

David Cotton, Satellite Oceanographic Consultants Ltd
(SatOC), Project Lead: [email protected]

Amani Becker, National Oceanography Centre, Project Lead: [email protected]

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Case Study: Ocean Womxn: Supporting Black Women to Earn Postgraduate Degrees in Oceanography at the University of Cape Town, South Africa

Ocean Womxn: Supporting Black Women to Earn Postgraduate Degrees in Oceanography at the University of Cape Town, South Africa
(on-going)

“The Ocean Womxn Fellows have made becoming an oceanographer a cool aspiration for young
black women across South Africa – everyone wants to be like them!”

Katye Altieri, Senior Lecturer at University of Cape Town and Principal Investigator responsible for founding
Ocean Womxn

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Summary

In 2018, the University of Cape Town (UCT) launched the Advancing Womxn Initiative (AWI) to fund projects that build capacity among black South African womxn.¹ Senior Lecturer in the Department of Oceanography at UCT, Katye Altieri and three colleagues submitted a successful proposal to create a prestigious fellowship for black womxn to undertake postgraduate and postdoctoral studies in oceanography.
Ocean Womxn’s² inaugural cohort of five black womxn (Fellows) entered the program in 2020, and two more joined in early 2021. Ocean Womxn’s goal is to create a generation of black womxn leaders in oceanography who become role models and mentors for future generations.

The programme hired diversity consultants who held focus groups with current and past students, and supported an understanding of the cultural barriers to black womxn in the Department. As a result, Ocean Womxn offers the Fellows tailored support in three areas: financial, professional and personal.

Ocean Womxn is ever-evolving. For instance, the programme offers formalised mentorship opportunities, connecting the Fellows with black womxn mentors in other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields (since there are few black South African womxn oceanographers). The Fellows have begun seeking out mentors to participate in the programme, and are creating a growing network of black womxn in STEM.

Ocean Womxn is in its second of five years of funding. Altieri reports that the Fellows are flourishing and that the programme is enabling discussions about diversity in the Department, catalysing a culture change within UCT’s Department of Oceanography. There is also a plan in place to determine how the programme could be applied more broadly, potentially to other science departments in South Africa, and other oceanography departments abroad.

The issue

The 2011 South African Census found that 76 per cent of the population is black. At the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2018, 31 per cent of professors were women; while that meant there were 76 woman professors, only 15 were black South Africans.

In the Department of Oceanography at UCT in 2018, of 73 postgraduate students 12 were black women, and there were no black women in the faculty. Altieri says, “It’s so different from the demographics of the country. It’s impossible to miss.”

In a study of black South African women holding science scholarships, the students reported experiences of nonbelonging, inside and outside the university classroom, and feelings of alienation from their field of study. The study notes that, even though these are high-performing students, there are still barriers to their success: “They may still enter university study with limited access to dominant forms of cultural capital, including English proficiency and scientific terminology, and other forms of less tangible knowledge.”³

The response

In 2018, the Vice Chancellor of UCT⁴ launched the Advancing Womxn Initiative (AWI), calling for proposals from women and transgender researchers from the  university community to lead projects supporting the training of postgraduates and postdoctoral fellows. The emphasis was on building capacity among black South African womxn, including a category for “conducting research in a field in which womxn are in short supply.”

In the AWI, Altieri saw an opportunity to support more black South African womxn to enter oceanography and become successful oceanographers. The Ocean Womxn programme has three aims:

1. Develop a prestigious research and leadership programme for black womxn that recruits, retains and enables success for the next generation of black womxn oceanographers;

2. Identify and overcome barriers by creating an environment that allows black womxn to succeed and become leaders;

3. Determine if the Ocean Womxn model could be applied more broadly in other ocean science programmes in South Africa or to other oceanography programmes beyond South Africa.

Ocean Womxn hired a professional consulting team specialising in diversity and transformation, which held three focus groups over several days with 15 womxn of colour from the Department and its past graduates. The consultants identified cultural barriers facing black womxn in the Department. They also reported as the most important outcomes of the focus groups the importance of co-production (involving the Fellows in creating Ocean Womxn) and the need to change the departmental culture, including involving all staff and students in the transformative process.

Based on the focus group work, the Ocean Womxn leadership identified the types of support it thought the fellows may need, and the areas where, Altieri says, “There was a way for Ocean Womxn to intervene and provide some degree of support.” As a result, Ocean Womxn provides support in three areas to help Fellows overcome fundamental barriers (Table 1).

Partnerships and support

Ocean Womxn is a project of UCT’s AWI, championed by the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng. The project, which began in 2019, receives funding of R5 million (or about €2.8 million) over five years. It is led by Lead Principal Investigator Katye Altieri and Co-Principal Investigators Juliet Hermes, Isabelle Ansorge and Sarah Fawcett, all from UCT’s Department of Oceanography.

Table 1: How Ocean Womxn supports its Fellows

Ocean Womxn has partnered with multiple people and organisations to give the Fellows a multitude of opportunities to support their development as oceanographers and leaders. In the development of Ocean Womxn’s strategy for how best to support its Fellows to overcome barriers, and to reach potential applicants for the programme, it engaged professional services related to diversity and to social media and website development. Ocean Womxn has partnered with the South African Earth Observation Network (SAEON),⁵ which provides opportunities for the Fellows outside of academia. There are plans through SAEON to involve the Fellows in leadership opportunities with the South African government and the National Research Foundation. The programme has also partnered with South African womxn leaders in STEM fields, who act as mentors to the Fellows.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

The first cohort of five black women graduate students began as Fellows in the Ocean Womxn programme at UCT in 2020, studying diverse aspects of oceanography.⁶ Two more Fellows were selected and entered the programme in early 2021.

Establishing Ocean Womxn has led to more than just supporting the Fellows: it has engaged the Department of Oceanography with the issue of diversity. In working with the diversity consultants, focus groups began with the Department’s past and present students of colour, and moved on to all students in the Department. Altieri says the next steps will be focus groups involving the staff, “to have discussions around race and talk about what’s troubling.”

Of the monthly mentorship program with successful black womxn in STEM fields, Altieri says the Fellows rave about the opportunity to speak with these womxn, finding inspiration in their stories. Led by the Fellows, they are quickly growing a network of black womxn in STEM.

The Fellows are also already becoming leaders and mentors. They provide curriculum-based marine education outreach to students in Grades 9 to 11, and one Fellow meets monthly with three young women who are interested in STEM careers, as a mentor to them.

Challenges

The biggest challenge for Ocean Womxn has been responding effectively to the needs of the Fellows. Because Altieri and her co-leads are women, but all white women who come from different cultures than the black Fellows, the programme and its leaders are learning to adapt as they learn more about the needs of their Fellows.

For example, the department held a pub night for staff and students to socialize that had the unintended effect of making the Ocean Womxn feel uncomfortable. The result was “showing that we are culturally disconnected with our black students.” The programme is designed to be flexible, to respond to individual needs and how those needs change over time. As the leadership team learns more about the cultural barriers facing the Fellows, it is adapting Ocean Womxn.

Altieri reports that the Fellows are thriving, and says that missteps are not a reason for inaction. “If you’re trying to make a change, you need to say things and you need to do things. You need to embrace that you’re going to completely mess it up, and that’s fine.”

Key lessons learnt

Co-development of the programme

As the researchers running the programme are not black womxn, they realised early on that it was important to know when to step aside to provide opportunities for the Fellows to make leadership decisions about Ocean Womxn. Ocean Womxn has often seen its best successes when Fellows lead the decisions about the programme. For instance, in the development of Ocean Womxn’s logo, Altieri says the Fellows worked with the graphic designer and the design went in a direction she would not have chosen. Altieri notes the importance of “listening to them to figure out what the Fellows need.”

Expert help

Ocean Womxn brought in experts in diversity and in social media and website development early in the process. The diversity experts helped identify the cultural barriers facing black womxn to entering and completing oceanography studies in the Department.

The social media and website consultants supported multiple aspects of the project, including effectively reaching out to black womxn on social media to find potential applicants.

Ocean Womxn has set about identifying the barriers for South African black womxn to their participation in oceanography and created a prestigious graduate and postgraduate programme that supports its Fellows to overcome those barriers and succeed.

Key contacts

Katye Altieri is an oceanographer and Senior Lecturer at UCT, South Africa, and the Principal Investigator leading Ocean Womxn.

Juliet Hermes is an oceanographer, Associate Professor at UCT and Manager at the South African Environmental Observation Network, South Africa. She is a Co- Investigator of Ocean Womxn.

Connect with Ocean Womxn on Twitter or at the Ocean Womxn website

 

Endnotes

1 AWI uses the term “womxn” spelled with an “x”, recognizing this as a more inclusive term than the word “women”. “Womxn” is pronounced the same as “women”.
2 https://oceanwomxn.co.za/

3 Liccardo, S. and Bradbury, J. (2017) “Black Women Scientists: Outliers in South African Universities”. African Journal of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education 21(3): 282-292
4 https://www.uct.ac.za/main/about/management/vicechancellor

5 http://www.saeon.ac.za/
6 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlAuNqhWrUE