NOAA, African/Indian Ocean states partner on Indian Ocean observations for social, economic service

May 16, 2011

Signing ceremony.

Larry Robinson, NOAA deputy administrator and assistant secretary for conservation and management and Mrs. Leyla Tegmo-Reddy, the UN Resident Coordinator for Mauritius and Seychelles, sign an agreement that cements cooperative scientific and technical efforts between NOAA and nine African/Indian Ocean states. Standing behind them are Sidney Thurston,  international coordinator of NOAA's climate program office (left) and David Vousden, ASCLME Project director.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Representatives from NOAA and the Agulhas-Somali Currents Large Marine Ecosystem (ASCLME) recently formalized an agreement that will help African and Indian Ocean states better manage their ocean ecosystems and resources.  The collaboration will support the collection of much-needed data and provide NOAA with shiptime from the region to improve weather forecasts and provide climate information. This agreement also fills the remaining gap of the Tropical Moored Buoy Array so that it spans the Pacific, Atlantic, and now Indian oceans.

“Communities across the world can expect a substantial return on this partnership; it will help improve climate forecasting, warnings for natural hazards, such as floods and droughts, monsoon prediction and marine environment monitoring,” said Larry Robinson, Ph.D., NOAA assistant secretary for conservation and management and deputy administrator, who signed the agreement.

During the past three years, a partnership and collaborative understanding has been growing in this region between NOAA and the ASCLME Project, which is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The project represents the interests of nine countries in the western Indian Ocean—Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, and Tanzania—with France also engaged as an observer country.

“The western Indian Ocean is no longer an isolated concern but one that attracts the attention and interest of the entire world,” said Leyla Tegmo-Reddy, the United Nations resident coordinator for Mauritius and Seychelles. “Equally importantly, we cement an already-flourishing partnership between NOAA and UNDP ASCLME with the strong belief that this will grow and thrive and embrace other partners and stakeholders in the region.”

NOAA and UNDP will work together for the next five years to launch and maintain long-term monitoring systems in the western Indian Ocean. These systems consist primarily of offshore ocean-atmosphere data collection buoys, known as the Research Moored Array for African-Asian-Australian Monsoon Analysis and Prediction (RAMA). RAMA will acquire data for monitoring ocean conditions and for models that eventually will be part of an early warning system for monsoons, climate change, droughts, floods and ecosystem variability.

The agreement also provides for technical training in mooring deployment and maintenance as well as data analysis, and provides research vessels to NOAA for this work. The African Monitoring of the Environment for Sustainable Development, a European Union Satellite consortium, also participated in this workshop and plans to couple their remote sensing with in-situ ocean observations of the Data Buoy Cooperation Panel, which collects data from the autonomous Argo floats and other devices.

The western Indian Ocean is home to an abundance of marine resources that provide economic, ecological and societal benefits globally. These resources face increasing pressure as populations grow and environmental variability, in particular climate change, escalates. Current resource management focuses on single species or sector, such as fisheries, shipping, energy or tourism.

However, this is not an effective approach as the ecosystem is a marriage of the physical and biological environments and the reality is much more complex. Living marine resources are part of a dynamic environment comprised of complex relationships between living and non-living components of the ecosystem. Disturbance to one of these environmental components can cause disturbance to the other.

Additionally, the Indian Ocean has been linked to long-term precipitation and temperature patterns around the world, including drought conditions in the Western United States. On average, drought costs the United States $6 billion–$8 billion annually. Monitoring the tropical Indian Ocean to include these new data into ocean-coupled models can potentially improve forecasts of temperature and precipitation patterns globally.

The countries of the region are adopting an ecosystem-based approach to management. The goal is sustaining capacity of the ecosystems and resources to provide essential long-term production of goods and services on which humans rely, such as safe seafood, safe transport and navigation, recreation and tourism, offshore energy, protection of threatened and endangered species, stable and productive coastal communities and economies, healthy environments, and living marine resources.

NOAA has long recognized the need for this evolution to ecosystem-based management. This past year, President Obama put forward a National Ocean Policy that directs the nation to adopt this approach for the sustainable management of our ocean, coasts and their resources.

Sustainable ocean and coastal management requires extensive scientific data, information, and technology to acquire biological, ecological, physical, chemical, socio-economic information in order to further understand the underlying ecosystem processes. This requires sustained ecosystem observations and monitoring, and integrative ecosystem modeling for improved basic understanding of ecosystem processes and evaluation tools.

NOAA serves as a science and technical support member to the ASCLME project and is committed, along with many project partners, to realizing the success of the ASCLME goal for an ecosystem-based approach, which aligns with NOAA and U.S. priorities for healthy and resilient ocean and coastal ecosystems and resources globally.

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