A guest post from Prof. Maarten De Wit, Nelson Mandela University

Last year Marten De Wit was hosted at Southampton and took part in the MOOC. Maarten is an Honorary Fellow of the Geological Society and a Professor at Nelson Mandela University. He wrote a short post about his time here for the blog:

As I travelled back from Southampton to my own university flanking the Indian Ocean (Nelson Mandela University) I came to appreciate and respect much better the global value of the NOC and the Ocean and Earth Centre of the University of Southampton.


Looking across the Indian Ocean from here, the content of the 4th week feels staggering and full of wisdom; and excellent science (& advice). My present thoughts go back to the early comments of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ (and in this course particularly that of the oceans), about which the ocean debate can and should learn from what has and is happening on land. Hunting in Africa to try and safe extinction of Rhinos and Elephants; selecting large areas as natural reserves (the greatest rhino killings happen on such reserves; how will it be for whales and other species in ocean reserves?). Harvesting (Mining for example) across Africa has left nothing but more inequality and environmental disasters (and advances towards the 6th extinction), despite UN rules and regulations. And there are no signs of deceleration.

Why would it be any different/better or worse across the oceans; across Antarctica and surrounding seas? Controlling harvesting of whales is proving difficult enough. The oceans contain resources that many nations want or think they need. There are so many good and worrying examples pointed out in this week’s comments. ‘Man’kind (I note at least one woman and many a man used this term in the discussion sections) – Humankind needs to come up with many better solutions to preserve the global commons and, for this course, the oceans. The tensions between science and politics (Craig Ventor’s video is a great one to watch in this respect); and between science and profits (Jon Copley’s blog very insightful), all engulfed in perceived needs, require ‘constructive critique’ and implementation of ‘precautionary principles’ (as Jon Copley calls for in his blog, and David Billet refers to in his video).

I would love to see some constructive critique from the participants in this course – can any of you come up with better solutions based on good science and data? For example, I do not agree with the statements that we will necessary need more minerals from the oceans to satisfy (future) demand. There is plenty of it on land (although these need to be extracted with greater care) if we learn how to share better and more efficiently. Why go to the oceans? Is it related to the need for nations and/or companies to control resources (many examples were mentioned in the course of exploration of metals in the central Indian Ocean by the Chinese and or by private mining/shipping etc. companies). Most mining companies cannot be trusted on-land to stick to UN ‘rules’ and environmental protection; why should they be trusted do so in the oceans? What are the most important scientific answers we need to address these common problems and common heritage? We need a new generation to come up with much better plans. Across Africa it is especially useful to reflect on this – but the reality is that the next generation of African people (and in many other parts of the world) need better and smarter communications with you to resolve these issues together (have a look at: www.PopulationSpeakOut.org). How can we/you achieve that?


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