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Region Summary: Africa

High-level findings on the deep-sea capacity of 44 geographical areas in Africa, divided into five subregions: Northern Africa, Western Africa, Middle Africa, Eastern Africa, and Southern Africa.

Published onSep 12, 2022
Region Summary: Africa
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The continent of Africa claims the fourth largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by total area and the fourth largest deep-sea area [1][2][3]. This assessment includes information about the technical and human capacity of 44 geographical areas (GeoAreas) in Africa, divided into five regions: Northern Africa, Western Africa, Middle Africa, Eastern Africa, and Southern Africa (Figure 1) [4]. For 33 GeoAreas, we have both survey and research data; for 11 GeoAreas, we have only research data. A detailed report of Africa’s subregions and their GeoAreas can be found in Region Results: Africa.

Figure 1

Africa Subregions
Map of Africa showing the five subregions used in the 2022 Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment: Northern Africa, Western Africa, Middle Africa, Eastern Africa, and Southern Africa. Light yellow indicates the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Africa. [1][2][3][4]

Status of Deep Sea Exploration & Research

Survey respondents were asked to assess the status of deep-sea exploration and research in their GeoArea by stating to what extent they agreed with the following statements: (1) deep-sea exploration and research are considered important in their GeoArea, (2) they have in-country deep-sea technology, and (3) they have in-country deep-sea expertise. 

Sixty percent of respondents for Africa agreed that deep-sea exploration and research are important for their GeoArea to pursue. Nearly two-thirds of respondents disagreed that they had the in-country technology to conduct deep-sea exploration and research. The results of the question on expertise are split: 41% agreed that they had in-country deep-sea expertise, while 39% disagreed with the same statement. In every subregion of Africa, the in-country expertise rating was equal to or higher than the in-country tools and technology rating.

These respondent-assessed reports of in-country importance, technology, and expertise were also used to evaluate respondents’ perceptions of the importance of and existence of in-country resources for deep-sea exploration and research at the subregional level (Table 1). 

Table 1

Importance

Tech

Expertise

Subregions

High

High

High

Northern Europe, Western Europe, Eastern Asia

Low

High

High

Northern America, Australia & New Zealand

Low

Low

Mid

Northern Africa, Eastern Europe, Southern Europe, Western Asia, South America

High

Low

Mid

Western Africa, Southeastern Asia

High

Low

Low

Eastern Africa, Southern Asia, Melanesia, Micronesia

Low

Low

Low

Middle Africa, Southern Africa, Polynesia, Central America, Caribbean

Respondents for Africa, on average, said that deep-sea exploration and research was considered important in their GeoArea, more so than half of the other regions worldwide. Although respondents thought that deep-sea exploration and research was considered important, they also had the second-lowest agreement that they had the technology or expertise in their GeoAreas to conduct deep-sea exploration and research.

Western and Eastern Africa had a high agreement that deep-sea exploration and research was considered important in respondents’ GeoAreas, while respondents for Northern, Middle, and Southern Africa had a low agreement about importance. Compared to most other regions of the world, respondents for Africa thought that deep-sea technology and expertise generally did not exist in their GeoArea. While the status ratings for in-country technology and expertise were low to moderate in all subregions of Africa, they were comparable to most other subregions worldwide.

Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities

The three most important deep-sea issues identified by respondents for Africa were fisheries & aquaculture, conservation & protection, and offshore oil & gas. As identified by survey respondents, Africa's three most important challenges were funding, human capacity, and vessel access. Training opportunities, more precise data collection technology, better data tools, and deeper technology were identified as the most exciting opportunities by respondents for Africa.

“This kind of instrumentation became increasingly important to investigate the impact of climate change on the coral reefs of the Sudan and also on the diving industry.” —Respondent for Sudan, Northern Africa


Deep-Sea Capacity Presence, Accessibility, and Satisfaction

The next part of the assessment recorded the presence of marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology—vessels, deep submergence vehicles (DSVs), sensors, and data tools—based on extensive research, survey respondents’ access to each type of technology, and respondents’ satisfaction with the technology to which they have access. 

Organizations & Industries

Using manual research and survey data, we assessed marine organizations and industries as a proxy for human capacity1

We identified 631 deep-sea and marine organizations in Africa, 199 universities and research laboratories, 244 government agencies and ministries, and 188 other organizations. Southern Africa had the highest number of organizations per GeoArea, and Eastern Africa had the lowest. 

The most common industries in Africa were marine transportation and fishing & aquaculture. Deep-sea mining was the least present industry, with no GeoArea found that had an active industry. However, at least 11 GeoAreas are prospecting to start deep-sea mining activities, including some GeoAreas where foreign-based and more wealthy African GeoAreas are conducting such exploration.

We found the most significant differences in research and survey results for marine construction and research and development (R&D); significantly more of these industries were found through research than identified by survey respondents. Conversely, respondents selected deep-sea mining considerably more than the number of active deep-sea mining industries found through research.

Vessels

Vessels were the technical capacity with the highest presence in Africa, and GeoAreas in Africa had a higher presence of multiple vessel types compared to many other regions of the world. Despite high vessel presence, respondents' access to multiple types of vessels in Africa was low relative to other types of deep-sea technology but comparable to other regions worldwide. Satisfaction with vessels ranged from very low to moderate and was the lowest of all regions worldwide.

Eighty-one percent of respondents for Africa considered ships and vessels important for their work. Fishing vessels were the most present, followed by traditional, navy, and recreational vessels. Research vessels were the least present type of vessel in Africa. The most accessible vessels in Africa were fishing vessels, followed by research vessels. More than one-third of respondents for Africa reported having no access to vessels. Sixty-one percent of respondents for Africa reported that increased access to vessels would have a high impact or would be transformative for their work. 

Other types of vessels included tug boats, multi-purpose vessels, maritime tankers, transport ships, business yachts, patrol boats, dredges, towing vessels, mining exploration vessels, and opportunistic foreign research vessels.

Deep Submergence Vehicles

Deep submergence vehicles (DSVs) were the technical capacity with the least extensive presence in Africa, and GeoAreas in Africa had the lowest presence of multiple DSV types compared to all other global regions. As such, respondent access to DSVs was low or very low in all subregions of Africa.

Despite the low rates of presence and access to DSVs, 68% of respondents for Africa considered DSVs important for their work. Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were the most present DSVs, followed by benthic landers. Human-occupied vehicles (HOVs) were the least present type of vehicle found in Africa.

The most accessible DSVs in Africa were ROVs, followed by benthic landers and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). Respondents for Africa were generally dissatisfied with available DSVs and every aspect of their operation. More than half of respondents for Africa reported having no access to DSVs. One GeoArea, Mayotte, had five DSV types as part of a collaboration with an overseas department attributed to France. However, it represents significant opportunities for Mayotte to explore deep-sea waters.

Depth rating for DSVs was promising, as 44% of DSVs to which respondents had access could operate deeper than 200 m. In Southern Africa, respondents had access to vehicles that could operate to a maximum depth of 2,000 m. In all other subregions, at least one respondent had access to vehicles that could operate to 4,000 m. Seventy percent of respondents for Africa reported that increased access to DSVs would have a high impact or would be transformative for their work.

Sensors

Sensor systems were the technical capacity with the second-lowest presence in Africa, and GeoAreas in Africa had the lowest presence of sensor types compared to all other regions worldwide. Despite the low presence of sensor systems found through research, respondents for Africa reported low to moderate levels of access to sensors, similar to Latin America & the Caribbean and some subregions of Oceania and Asia.

Navigation systems were the most present sensors found in Africa, followed by imaging systems. Genetic sensors for environmental DNA (eDNA) were the least present type. Africa's most accessible sensor systems were water sampling systems, followed by CTDs and chemical sensors (e.g., O2, pH, eH). Approximately three-quarters of respondents reported having access to deep-sea sensors, and 77% of respondents for Africa reported that increased access to deep-sea sensor systems would have a high impact or would be transformative for their work.

Data Tools

Data tools were the technical capacity with the second-highest presence in Africa after vessels. GeoAreas in Africa had a higher presence of multiple data tool types than Oceania and Latin America & the Caribbean.

Geographic information systems (GIS) was the most present data tool, followed by machine learning & artificial intelligence. Cloud computing and data storage were the least present. The most accessible data tool in Africa was GIS, followed by data management tools and data visualization. More than a quarter of respondents for Africa reported having no access to any of the listed data tools. Eighty-six percent of respondents for Africa reported data analysis & access tools were important for their work, and 81% of respondents for Africa reported that increased access to data tools would have a high impact or would be transformative for their work.

One respondent noted that some of these tools are available in Seychelles, but they exist within governmental structures and are generally not for use by researchers outside of the government.

"Online platforms make it easier for us to access satellite data. In order to achieve the best result, we insist on collecting data locally using the appropriate tools and technologies." --Respondent for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Middle Africa


Deep-Sea Capacity Indices

Organizations, industries, vessels, DSVs, sensors, and data tools were assessed using research to identify the presence of capacity in each GeoArea and survey responses to identify accessibility to and satisfaction of vessels, DSVs, sensors, and data tools in each subregion. We used this information to group subregions based on similarities concerning the presence of marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology, access to technology, and satisfaction with the technology available, allowing for comparison between locations on a subregional, regional, and global scale (Table 2).

Table 2

Presence

Access

Satisfaction

Subregions

Mid-high

High

High

Northern Europe, Northern America

Mid

Mid

Mid

Western Europe, Southern Europe, Eastern Asia, Southeastern Asia, Australia & New Zealand

Mid

Low-mid

Low-mid

Northern Africa, Southern Africa, Eastern Europe, Western Asia, Southern Asia, South America

Low

Low

Low-mid

Western Africa, Middle Africa, Eastern Africa, Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, Central America, Caribbean

Northern Africa had the most types of deep-sea-related organizations and industries, vessels, DSVs, sensors, and data tools. Middle Africa had the lowest. Eastern Africa had the highest variation, indicating a heterogeneous distribution of resources in this subregion, while Southern Africa had the lowest variation. There were no countries in Africa with the presence of all resources researched. Five GeoAreas had only one: Angola, Cabo Verde, Chagos Archipelago, Guinea-Bissau, and Sao Tome and Principe.

Respondents for Southern Africa had the most access to the most types of deep-sea tools. Overall satisfaction with in-country deep-sea tools in Africa was generally low. Northern Africa respondents were the most satisfied with deep-sea tools in their GeoArea, while all others had very low satisfaction.

"RESEARCHER PERSPECTIVE
""In-country skills need to be prioritized and funded, and African countries must incorporate deep-sea research projects in an interdisciplinary and collaborative manner. The assessment of deep-sea capacity in Africa is already a crucial step since it can help promote equitable opportunities for African countries to explore and manage their deep-sea ecosystem."" --Otmane Sarti, University of Abdelmalek Essaadi, Tangier, Morocco"

Conclusion

Our research resulted in categorizing African countries into three groups depending on their capacities. The first group includes high-income countries like South Africa, and the Maghrebian countries, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt. These countries are the most established in Africa regarding deep-sea technology and expertise. South Africa is one of the most developed in terms of deep-sea research output and capacity. Still, it lacks proper funding and in-country skills and often relies on international funding and international human capacity to achieve its goals. 

In the second group are the many African territories still under European countries' administration, benefiting from their research infrastructure. Most of these lands are islands distributed between the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, e.g., the Chagos Archipelago, Tristan da Cunha, Mayotte, and Ascension. 

The last group encompasses the African countries with the least marine scientific research infrastructure and technology. Small Island Developing States such as Cabo Verde and others remain largely unexplored, and information on their deep-sea habitats and ecosystems remains scarce. Mauritania, whose deep waters have tremendous biological diversity due to the phenomenon of upwelling, does not have a developed scientific infrastructure that could allow it to study its deep-sea ecosystem. Most of the work done to date on deep-sea exploration in the 44 African countries assessed is through the aid of foreign research vessels and human capacity. However, local deep-sea capacity is now under development in several of these regions, including Seychelles and Mauritius, and these projects could become a model for others.

Finally, Africa presents a unique opportunity to expand low-cost, accessible deep-sea research and exploration. The largest depth zone by area in Africa lies 2,000-4,000 meters below sea level, covering 46% of all African EEZs, followed by 4,000-6,000 m covering 31% of all EEZs in the region. Exploration technology that can reach 6,000 m would unlock access to all of Africa's EEZs.

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