Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association

Michael Schleyer

Michael Schleyer

Senior Scientist, Oceanography Research Institute (ORI)


Joined the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) in Durban in 1972 and retired in 2012. During the my time at the Institute, I directed invertebrate and biodiversity-related research, as well as a number of multi-disciplinary projects while personally specializing in subtropical and coral reef research off the East African coast and in the southern Red Sea. My research was conducted in an active role as well as in the capacity of co-ordinator of a multi-institutional, international effort. The scope of the work was wide-ranging, from basic studies on coral taxonomy, reef surveys and longterm reef monitoring, to research on subjects such as coral genetics and reproduction; larval dispersal, recruitment and reef connectivity; reef fish communities; natural products; regional coral bleaching and the effects of climate change; reef usage, and an economic valuation of the reefs and their ecosystem services. It has resulted in the generation of higher degrees by postgraduate students in all these fields.

The local coral reef programme thus yielded a formidable wealth of information for decisionsupport in the management of our reef MPAs and provided input for the proclamation of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park as a World Heritage Site as well as promulgation of the Aliwal Shoal MPA. My personal efforts in the field of coral taxonomy resulted in the description of a new soft coral genus and a number of species, chapters on corals in a field guide on marine life in East Africa and the islands of the Western Indian Ocean, and a CD-Rom and field guide on soft corals.

As Deputy Director of ORI, my broader research brief included the supervision of projects on invertebrate fisheries monitoring and management, as well as the biology of mussels, oysters, rock lobsters and other crustaceans. I have thus supervised post-graduate studies in subjects as diverse as the development of operational management procedures for recreational invertebrate fisheries and microbial indicators of water quality in estuaries and the marine environment. My responsibilities further included interaction on issues concerning coastal zone and fisheries management and I was responsible for numerous EIAs and consultancies.

My work continues as a Research Associate, focusing on the effects of climate change on coral reefs within appropriate predictive models. Other work I conceptualised within the greater ORI Coral Reef Programme is still being executed by students under my supervision.  

The scope of these activities has meant that I have dealt with the complexity of local and international funding within the donor community, which has necessitated active and aggressive fund-raising. At the local level, I have successfully gained support for projects, programmes and consultancies (from e.g. the NRF, Innovation Fund, WIOMSA, WWF, IUCN and UNEP), while being involved in the procurement of major grants at the international level from organizations such as the European Union and the pharmaceutical industry (PharmaMar). Over the last five years, these activities have continued to attract research funds averaging over ZAR750 000   p.a. from the South African National Research Foundation (NRF), Applied Centre for Climate and Earth System Sciences (ACCESS), African Coelacanth Programme (ACEP) and Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA). Most of the recent funding has benefitted regional students from South Africa and Reunion.

The work has involved interaction with senior staff and government officials, providing decision support to conservation authorities and environmental management agencies.

I have sat on various national committees on biodiversity and resource management issues. I have also been a member of a number of conference organising committees such as the South African Marine Science Symposium (SAMSS), International Conference on Coelenterate Biology (ICCB) and symposia of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA). I serve on the Editorial Boards of the Marine Pollution Bulletin and Chemistry and Ecology, and was until recently the Chief Editor of the Western Indian Ocean Journal of Marine Science (WIOJMS). ORI affiliation with the University of KwaZulu-Natal has provided me Professor status, establishing the level at which I deal with this institution.

To date, I have authored or co-authored 115 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, four peer-reviewed field notes, 25 chapters in books including a CD and a Field Guide on soft coral taxonomy, 62 unpublished reports, 87 conference presentations including two invited keynote addresses, and numerous popular articles.

I have supervised 16 Masters and ten Ph.D. theses as well as two post-docs. Apart from an Austrian and a Colombian, all my students have come from the region (Mozambique, South Africa, Reunion) and a number are now international leaders and institutional heads in their fields.

Finally, I am the South African representative to the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) and was, until recently, a local representative for the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN).