The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, today launched the South African Marine Research and Exploration Forum (SAMREF), an initiative to exploit research opportunities in offshore oil and gas exploration in South Africa.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Offshore Petroleum Association of South Africa (OPASA) signed a memorandum of understanding to establish SAMREF.

The Forum will enhance cooperation between the public and private sectors and improve the exsite2016 of information and data on a voluntary basis between all stakeholders. Its daily activities will be managed through a secretariat established within the National Research Foundation (NRF), one of the DST's entities.

SAMREF will include representatives from government, state-owned enterprises, research institutions, oil and gas industry associations and other private sector stakeholders.

Today's launch marks the successful implementation of Operation Phakisa B3 (exploiting the broader research opportunities presented by offshore oil and gas exploration). President Jacob Zuma launched Operation Phakisa in 2014.

The first phase of Operation Phakisa focused on the blue economy and aimed to unlock the potential of our country's vast marine resources. With 3 000 km of coastline, South Africa isa major maritime nation. We live close to water and look to the sea, estuaries and rivers for food, jobs, energy, transport, recreation and tourism.

The unlocking of marine resources has the potential to increase its contribution to South Africa's GDP by more than R20 billion over five years. The four critical focus areas of Operation Phakisa are marine transport and manufacturing, offshore oil and gas exploration, aquaculture, and marine protection services and governance.

Speaking at the launch in Cape Town, Minister Pandor said the South African coastal and marine environment was one of our most important assets."It plays a major role in regulating our climate, has tremendous natural biodiversity and supports numerous communities through fishing, tourism and mining."

The Minister added that government's priority now – in the current global economic crisis – was to promote better cooperation between business and government. "Business and government need to work together to increase South Africa's gross expenditure on research and development from the current 0,7% of GDP to 1,5% by 2019.  While the target is ambitious, we are committed to achieving it," said the Minister.

The whole of the South Africa's coast – from the coral reefs of the Indian Ocean to the rich kelp forests of the Atlantic – is one of the richest and most biologically diverse marine environments on Earth. The Benguela Current, off our west coast, supports large quantities of fish, while the Agulhas Current, off our east coast, has a smaller quantity of fish, but a greater diversity of species.

OPASA Chairperson, Mr Sean Lunn, said both corporate and public citizens of South Africa had an opportunity to add tangible value to South Africa's marine infrastructure, protection services and ocean governance.

"This is achieved through fostering good relations and partnership programmes, such as those being driven through SAMREF, and growing the public sector's research database on the marine and oceanic environment. This is a step in the right direction for understanding the offshore environment in which we operate, and provides a research conduit that drives policy and precision in decision making and strengthens capabilities in effective mitigation strategies, based on the best available science."

Dr Andrew Kaniki, the Executive Director of Knowledge Fields Development at the NRF, said, "This is an opportunity for the public and private sectors in South African marine research to work together and utilise the resources generated by offshore oil and gas exploration. We, as the NRF, are pleased to be the managing agency of this great initiative."

The establishment of SAMREF will facilitate new collaborative offshore studies that will increase South Africa's state of knowledge of the offshore marine environment, the benefits of renewable energy, marine biodiversity and ecology, climate site2016 and ecosystem functioning, and it will go some way towards mitigating the policy conflict between developing the oil and gas sector and the development of a low-carbon economy.

It will also increase opportunities for publically funded research institutions and individuals to gather data and information that will allow better informed management decisions relating to the marine ecosystem.

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Issued by the Department of Science and Technology

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