Moagabo Ragoasha has just defended her PhD and is now a qualified South African physical oceanographer. Thanks to the IRD scholarship program, she had the opportunity to share her PhD time between France and South Africa. Let’s have a chat with her so she can share her experience with us!

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© Alice Mcgrath

Moagabo Ragoasha.

Pleased to meet you Moagabo! Please tell us a bit about your background and how you ended up working with IRD.

Sure! I originally come from Limpopo, in the northern part of South Africa. After completing my basic education, I choose to study oceanography at the University of Cape Town.

I met Steven Herbette, oceanography lecturer at the University of Western Brittany, during my Honours. He was lecturer at UCT at that time. He told me I should apply to the IRD “ARTS” PhD scholarship program. After a very competitive process, IRD decided to support my PhD project by funding it and giving me the opportunity to spend 6 months per year in France. I was thrilled!

I would be studying the physical processes in the Benguela current and their influence on anchovy’s eggs and larvae transport.

How did France treat you?

When I first landed to Brest, at the Western edge of France, I had a bit of a cultural shock! The language was the most difficult, as we hardly ever hear French in South Africa. I took some time to adjust and enjoy.

During each year of my PhD, I spent 6 months in Brest and 6 months in Cape Town. Unfortunately, both were in winter! But it was great and fulfilling experience to study abroad, to travel around Europe and to work in a multicultural environment.

Moagabo on a sailing boat during Brest International Maritime Festival.

© Alice Mcgrath

How did going to France help you with your PhD?

When I started in 2015, the technical resources for physical oceanography were not much developed in South Africa. For ocean modelling, I needed super-computers with strong processors. When I was in France, I was hosted by the LOPS lab in Brest and I could have access to a system found in IDRIS, in Paris. We had to book computer-time to launch simulations that would help us build our models.

Being in France also gave me the possibility to meet many French scientists working on the Benguela and the Agulhas currents bordering Southern Africa. I am part of this South African-French network that is very dynamic and helpful. I will still be working with them in the next years.


Why is it important to study the anchovy’s eggs and larvae transport?

Anchovies lay their eggs along the south coast of South Africa, where the water is calm and warm. Unfortunately, this area does not offer them enough food to grow. The eggs and larvae must reach colder but more nutrient waters on the west coast, thanks to the current, as they are not able to swim. Studying the current physical processes allows us to understand how this 400-km journey takes place. Fisheries are highly impacted by the number of anchovies reaching the West Coast to grow and then returning South to lay their eggs. Our models help to predict how many anchovies were able to grow and how many may be fished without disrupting the ecosystem. The numbers also vary from one year to another and we try to understand what causes this variation.

How did you PhD defence go and what are your plans for the future?

While I was looking forward to defending my thesis in the lab in Brest, surrounded by colleagues and friends, I ended up defending it online, from home in Limpopo! The Covid-19 pandemic prevented me from flying to France. It was still a great moment.

I am currently finishing a lecturer position at UCT. In a few weeks, I will be moving to the South African Environmental Observation Network to study the effect of topography on the currents, more particularly in the Cape Canyon area, in South Africa. I will keep on working with French colleagues on a regular basis.

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© Screenshot by Gildas Cambon

Moagabo defended her thesis online on May 28th.

The IRD ARTS program

The IRD gives PhD grants for up to 36 months to students from the South carrying out their research in a country in the South and/or the North. Funding includes a monthly flat rate allowance, social security cover and a round-trip ticket per year. Funding requests carried by doctoral students from the South are now made by IRD research units and arbitrated by the scientific departments of the Institute.

For more information, please contact