Fishermen and their communities in East Africa are benefitting from the computer modelling skills of UWA’s Centre for Water Research – thanks to a jar of Vegemite.
Dr Jason Antenucci, the Centre’s deputy director (research), is coming to the end of a two-year project to help fisheries and oceanographic institutes in Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles, Mozambique and Madagascar.
The project has been supported by the UNESCO Inter-governmental Oceanographic Institute (IOC).
A friend of Dr Antenucci’s was working at the UN in Rome, when he spotted another staff member, Stefano Mazzilli, pulling out his jar of Vegemite for lunch one day. They struck up a conversation, with Stefano explaining his role in the IOC project and the need for environmental modelling expertise … and a recommendation to get in contact with Dr Antenucci was made.
“There are only a handful of oceanographers in East Africa,” Dr Antenucci said. “In fact, you could fit them all into one room: less than a dozen of them. They have limited modelling skills but they are very skilled at fieldwork and in other areas.
“The IOC asked us to help build capacity in the region in the use of hydrodynamic modelling for coastal management. The skills they have learnt over the past two years will be invaluable for them to improve their industries and environmental management,” he said.
One of the industries which has benefitted is a big aquaculture project in Mozambique. “They are growing shrimps which they export to Europe,” Dr Antenucci said. “The farm is on an estuary, from which they pump water into massive ponds. But raw sewage drains into the estuary at the other side of the channel, so they needed to learn when and how they should be pumping their water and how to minimise risk to their production.
“The farm has to meet strict health guidelines set by the importers in Europe. It is in a very impoverished area of the country and employs about 1,000 people so it was very important that they could work out how to keep the industry viable.”
In Kenya, the Marine and Fisheries Research Institute wanted to be able to use computer simulation to assess how successful their national marine parks were in protecting fisheries and the environment.
“Also in Kenya, their meteorological department needed modelling skills to understand the threats to their coastline of changing sea levels. The historical Swahili city of Gedi used to be on the coast 500 years ago and is now several kilometres inland. There is an established history of shoreline change in the region.”
Dr Antenucci said the various groups were now able to talk to their stakeholders, get their questions, do the modelling and take the answers back to the stakeholders.
“The coastal people of East Africa rely on fisheries, aquaculture and seaweed farming and they knew they could do it better with some simple computer modelling skills,” he said.
“The importance of these skills continues to increase, with recent droughts and predictions of further rainfall reductions in the region putting more pressure on the available coastal resources.”
Pictured: Jason Antenucci with local scientists Fialho Nehama and Sinibaldo Canhanga on a bridge over one of the tributaries to the Bons Sinais Estuary in Mozambique.