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ORI - Oceanographic Research Institute

Oceanographic Research Institute

where we work 

SAAMBR’s Oceanographic Research Institute is based at uShaka Marine World in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Much of the work of the institute is focused on the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. It is also a leader in marine research in the Western Indian Ocean region, and has worked on projects in all of the countries and island states along Africa’s east coast.

ORI facilities

Apart from administrative facilities and office infrastructure for staff, as an independent, marine and coastal science-orientated research organisation, the Oceanographic Research Institute is equipped with:

  • Dry laboratories
  • Wet laboratories
  • Student facilities
  • A marine research aquarium
  • Vehicles
  • Boats and associated storage facilities
  • SCUBA diving gear
  • Sampling equipment for a variety of habitats and resources.

what we do 


ORI covers a number of areas of expertise and offers a range of marine science services: scientific investigation, management advice, training and capacity building, and consulting.

Scientific areas of expertise include:

  • Marine and coastal resources of the western Indian Ocean: fishes, sharks and invertebrates
  • Coral reef ecology and biology in the western Indian Ocean
  • Estuarine functioning
  • Habitat modelling
  • Marine Protected Area design and management
  • Mariculture
  • Coastal zone management
  • Genetic basis for stock discrimination and species connectivity
  • Biodiversity assessments, particularly of reefs and soft sediments

Training and capacity building include:

  • Supervision of post-graduate students
  • Specifically designed training courses for management and conservation agencies.

Consulting services include:

  • Impact assessment on marine resources, fisheries and ecosystems
  • Assessments for ecocertification of resources.


Research Portfolios

Demersal Fisheries and Ecology

This portfolio is diverse, but broadly deals with improving knowledge and understanding of demersal resources and their habitats, thereby contributing towards their sustainability and conservation.

Research topics include: broad characterisation of fisheries; patterns in catch composition of trawl fisheries; impacts and reduction of trawl bycatch; biological characterisation and stock assessments of harvested species; connectedness of species/shared stocks and ecological aspects of soft-sediment demersal habitats.

The geographic scope is the east coast of South Africa and the wider Western Indian Ocean.

Activities include the identification, execution and/or supervision of projects; preparing and reviewing of project proposals, reports and other documents for local and international funders or agencies; selected consultancies to support decision-makers; and co-ordination and presentation of the University of KwaZulu-Natal post-graduate fisheries science course.

Coral Reef Research

The reefs of the Western Indian Ocean are highly diverse and play a critical role in biodiversity and ecosystem maintenance.

They range from sunlit and colourful coral reefs supporting a wide array of tropical fish to algal and sponge dominated rocky outcrops teeming with cryptic organisms. They are, however, all under threat from a combination of local and global pressures including global warming, ocean acidification, overfishing and pollution.

The ORI reef team is studying the ecology and functioning of our reefs in order to try and better protect them and help ensure their survival into the future.

This includes: determining how the corals and fish on our local reefs are interconnected using cutting edge molecular and acoustic techniques; monitoring the ecological and biophysical composition of the reefs; looking at the effects of global warming, ocean acidification and pollution on our local reefs as well as determining the socio-economic impact of reef related tourism and use on local communities.

Estuarine and Soft Sediment Ecology

The central theme is the study of organisms and environments (habitats, biotopes) in coastal ecosystems (estuarine and coastal shelf) and the interactions between them.

The portfolio undertakes core projects and supports other portfolios with cross-cutting subjects such as coastal zone matters and WIO-regional estuaries. Projects are around socio-ecological issues and research questions related to estuarine and marine ecology; specialising in the taxonomy, biology and ecology of estuarine and marine macrobenthic invertebrates as indicators of ecosystem status, transitions and health. Studies are wide-ranging from those undertaken for competitive research grants, environment reporting, biological baseline studies and hypothesis-testing, to specialist consultancies for issue-driven projects.

Examples are ecosystem responses to climate extremes, land-to-sea connectivity, biodiversity inventories and assessments, understanding community states relative to environmental drivers and habitats, and organism functional attributes and traits. The group supports post graduate training, internships, and has a core of specialised technical and scientific staff.

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Research Portfolios

Linefish & Marine Protected Areas

This portfolio focuses on the provision of objective science to guide the wise and sustainable management of linefish species caught along the South African coast.

This is one of the longest running research programmes at ORI and stretches back to the early 1960s when work was first started on investigating the biology of the seventy-four Polysteganus undulosus.

The portfolio consists of a number of long-term monitoring projects such as the ORI Cooperative Fish Tagging Project; the National Marine Linefish System – KZN Recreational Fishery and the KZN Boat Launch Site Monitoring System.

Other long-term monitoring projects focus on investigating the effectiveness of marine protected areas (MPAs) in protecting linefish species both in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the Pondoland MPA.

In addition to these, projects on the biology and stock assessment of key species are conducted intermittently.

Coastal Zone Management

The coastal environment is a unique and valuable natural asset; offering a wide range of goods and services. As such it is a zone that experiences significant pressure for development, resource use and economic growth.

It is therefore important to identify, understand and monitor the impact of human activities in the coastal environment, so as to ensure sustainable use of the coastal space and the resources it offers.

The ORI coastal zone portfolio focuses on obtaining and interpreting strategic information about the KZN coastal zone to assist in coastal management related issues.

This includes fundamental and applied research relating to coastal and marine resources, the interpretation of scientific data, and the development of a knowledge-base that serves all levels of coastal management.

Regional & Invertebrate Fisheries

ORI is located on the shores of the Western Indian Ocean, a global hotspot of marine biodiversity bordered by developing countries, where fisheries provide both employment opportunities and food security to coastal populations.

The regional programme undertakes collaborative research with a network of partners in Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar and small islands states, to assess human impacts on fish stocks and the surrounding environment.

Both classical fisheries research and socio-ecological approaches are used, respectively on industrial fisheries and nearshore small-scale fisheries. The applied value of project outputs is a major consideration in their development.

The regional programme supports a substantial multinational cadre of postgraduate students across the Western Indian Ocean, in several disciplines. Funding for regional projects is generally sourced through grants.

Fisheries certification to Marine Stewardship Council standards is undertaken as consulting work. The regional programme provides a framework for a broad range of applied research, capacity development initiatives and consulting.

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