Updated 19/08/20

A long-term French-South African partnership

2017 - today

South Africa


The partnership in oceanography between the IRD and South Africa began in 1997 with the multidisciplinary project VIBES (1997-2001) "VIability of exploited pelagic fish resources in the Benguela in relation to the Environment and Spatial aspects". The main objective of this project was to study in the long term and at different scales of observation, the changes in the fisheries, recruitment and their spatial processes in the Benguela ecosystem.

Launching of plankton nets from the La Pérouse ship.

© IRD - Francis Marsac

This issue indeed corresponded to the long-term objectives of the main partners of this project, the Marine Coastal Management (MCM) of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and the Department of Oceanography of the University of Cape Town (UCT).

This partnership with MCM and UCT continued with the Idyle project (2001-2008) "Interactions and spatial DYnamics of renewable resources in upweLling Ecosystems". The scientific focus of this project was to understand how the adaptive strategies of the different species of fishes and their dynamics are structured by the presence of inshore upwelling and the resulting ecosystemic patterns. The project focused on the meso-scale dynamics of the environment, reproductive strategies, spatial strategies (macroscale) and on pelagic fish aggregation, as well as on trophic strategies within the framework of ecosystem dynamics. The knowledge of these adaptive strategies has natural applications to the sustainable development and viability of fisheries. The training of young scientists from South Africa and Southern Africa was a major component of this project.

In 2009, an international joint laboratory (IJL) on marine and atmospheric sciences was created by French and South African partners. The IJL ICEMASA, "International Center for Education, Marine and Atmospheric Science over Africa" aimed to encourage cooperation in various research themes: ocean currents, ocean-atmosphere exchanges, marine biogeochemistry, marine ecosystems and fisheries…, along the coasts of Southern Africa (Atlantic and Indian oceans) and in the Southern Ocean. Quantitative approaches (including numerical simulations) were an important component of the program. ICEMASA also played an important role in capacity building in ocean science. This capacity building effort was also continued at the regional scale thanks to the JEAI MOCA, Mozambique OCeanic Atmospheric sciences (2013-2016) which allowed training by research of Mozambican scientists in marine sciences (PhD and Masters). The partners of this IJL were the IRD, the CNRS (INSU), the University of Bretagne Occidentale (UBO, Brest), the University of Montpellier, the University of Cape Town, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Department of Environmental Affairs.

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© IRD - Francis Marsac

Mesopelagic fauna.

This IJL ended in 2018, a few key figures allow us to appreciate its importance and its very positive outcome:

  • The involvement of 60 researchers and technicians from many disciplines: physical oceanography, marine biogeochemistry, ecosystem modeling, marine ecology and fisheries.
  • 310 articles published (2009-2017), 33% of which were co-publications with scientists from Southern Africa.
  • 67 supervised students: 26 PhD students, 33 MSc students and 8 in Honours. 55% of students were from Southern Africa, 61% from Africa, 72% from Africa + Indian Ocean Islands
  • Creation of co-labeled Masters between the University of Cape Town and the University of Brest, and between the University of Cape Town and the University of Montpellier
  • Conferences, tutorials in Honors and Masters, summer schools, workshops for an investment of around 100 hours per year by French scientists in these teaching activities


This assessment is to be associated with a considerable effort made by the IRD which supported:

  • 611 months of expatriation for IRD, University of Brest and CNRS staff, between 2009 and 2018. On average 70.5 months / year of expatriation for French people (8 to 11 researchers present simultaneously for the period 2011-2015)
  • 55 months of long-term mission (2 to 3 months) for French researchers

This project ended with "The Ocean Science Days in the Cape", restitution symposium organized from 23 to 26 October 2018 in Cape Town. It included 6 thematic sessions and a 7th session aimed at collecting the commitments of regarding the new ILOSA project (International Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Africa), which is supported by a project of Master in Marine Sciences, SASOST (South African School of Ocean Sciences and Technology).


While actively working to develop a new master in marine sciences, scientists from IRD, CNRS and their South African partners are continuing these collaborations in marine sciences thanks to funded projects such as TriATLAS (H2020), regular stays of French scientists mainly at the University of Cape Town and Nelson Mandela University, and stays of South African scientists in Montpellier, Toulouse and Brest partner laboratories.



Learn more about International Joint Laboratories and other international collaboration tools: