Marine Sewage Outfalls – Environmental Impact Evaluation (SANOCEAN) focusing on ocean research including blue economy, climate change, environmental research and sustainable energy.

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The SANOCEAN program is funded by the Norwegian Research Council (RCN) and South Africa's National Research Foundation (NRF).

Marine Sewage Outfalls – Environmental Impact Evaluation is a project in the SANOCEAN program and includes researchers from University of Stavanger (UiS), Norwegian Research Centre (NORCE), NettOp UiS, University of the Western Cape (UWC), University of Cape Town (UCT), South African Weather Service (SAWS), Stellenbosch University (SU), South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), CSIR Stellenbosch, and University of California Riverside (UCR). 

Producing drinking water from seawater desalination

The ongoing drought in the Western Cape has led to the proposal to produce drinking water for the City of Cape Town by seawater desalination plants. The city discharges a high volume of sewage effluent into the ocean via the marine outfalls located around the Cape Peninsula.

It is assumed by the city that the effluents are diluted adequately and dispersed rapidly out to sea and that the seawater intake to the desalination plants only contains inorganic salts. It is not considered that the seawater used in the desalination plant also may contain organic pollutants and/or microorganisms derived from the sewage effluents. 

Contaminants in seawater may be missed by standard treatment

However, the sewage discharged into the ocean is highly contaminated with emerging contaminants (ECs) of concern. If not treated properly, reclaimed water from the desalination plants can act as a possible exposure pathway to a high number of ECs and their metabolites.

Many of these compounds may pass through conventional wastewater treatment systems and reverse osmosis membrane systems typically used in desalination plants and thus end up in potable water supplies.

Studying the impact of contaminants in seawater

This project aims to evaluate the environmental impact of marine discharges of sewage from the city of Cape Town and brine retentates from desalination plants in Cape Town. This will be done by creating prediction models of the sewage plume, biomonitoring using chemical analyses, and bioassays in ecologically relevant marine organisms.

Information about SANOCEAN on the website of the Reasearch Council of Norway.

The governments of South Africa and Norway have both given oceans and the blue economy high priority over the last few years, emphasizing the importance of maintaining clean and healthy oceans while ensuring the sustainable use of ocean resources for growth and development.

The two countries have agreed to strengthen cooperation in the fields of science, technology and innovation (STI), higher education, the marine and maritime sectors, energy, environment, and climate change.

One of the instruments to promote this cooperation is the bilateral research program SANOCEAN 2018-2023, “South Africa – Norway Co-operation on Ocean research, including blue economy, climate change, the environment and sustainable energy" that started in 2018 with the signing of a framework agreement and the launching of a call for proposals.

The program is funded jointly by the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Pretoria. The program is managed by a joint Secretariat composed of officials from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Research Council of Norway (RCN). In November 2018, 10 joint research projects were granted funding from SANOCEAN. One of these projects, Marine Sewage Outfalls - Environmental Impact Evaluation, is a collaboration between the University of Stavanger and the University of the Western Cape ().

In accordance with the SANOCEAN Framework Agreement, each project was required to present their updated plans for their activities at a launch conference which took place at at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, 25-27 March 2019.

SANOCEAN Kick off meeting in 2019
Researchers from the SANOCEAN team pictured at the Launching Conference 25-27 March 2019. From left: Prof. Magne Sydnes (Norwegian PI, University of Stavanger), Prof. Leslie Petrik (South African PI, University of the Western Cape) and Dr. Christo Rautenbach (South African Weather Service and University of Cape Town).