Towards a community of practice for equitable and sustainable marine biodiscovery in South Africa

By Jessica Lavelle

On August 3rd, 2021, the Bio-economy Research Chair in partnership with the One Ocean Hub hosted a webinar on marine biodiscovery in South Africa. The purpose of the event was to bring together scientists, regulators and policymakers to present and discuss findings relating to the equitable and sustainable use of marine genetic resources. This stems from research conducted by Dr Jessica Lavelle and Professor Rachel Wynberg which explored historical and current activities relating to marine biodiscovery, its governance and existing (dis)connections in law, science and policy. The intention of the research is to explore opportunities for harmonising science and policy to enable approaches for equitable and sustainable marine biodiscovery in South Africa.

Tailored around two presentations and a lively panel discussion, participants at the webinar included representatives from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment – Oceans and Coasts and the Bioprospecting, Access and Benefit Sharing office, the South African National Botanical Institute, University of the Western Cape, University of Cape Town, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Rhodes & Nelson Mandela universities, as well as broader One Ocean Hub members and industry representatives.

Highlights of the event included a presentation by Professor Marcel Jaspars from the University of Aberdeen who gave an insightful overview of the complexities of the marine pharmaceutical discovery pipeline and the challenges of regulating digital sequence information. Key points raised were the importance of good scientific practice, opportunities arising from long term international collaborations and initiatives such as those in Ireland to undertake a national marine bioprospecting analysis towards a marine biodiscovery strategy.

The panel discussion between scientists and government centred around questions relating to policy challenges of protecting digital sequence information originating from South Africa, how to improve coordination and collaboration between research projects to make better use of existing infrastructure and capacity, and opportunities for channelling benefits towards marine conservation. Many valuable points were raised by participants, including the need for a ‘one-stop shop’ for permitting processes, collaboratively developing a policy for marine biodiscovery in South Africa, and examining possibilities to close the pipeline gap in-country.

Moving forward the webinar helped to provide the foundation for the development of a community of practice for equitable and sustainable marine biodiscovery in South Africa. We look forward to facilitating further discussions and sharing the report in the near future.

Should you be interested in receiving updates please contact Jessica Lavelle at

Photo by Tam Warner Minton on Unsplash