September Saturday Student: Heather Forrer

September Saturday Student: Heather Forrer

Heather Forrer completed her undergraduate BSc degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2015, majoring in Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences and Marine Biology. She then went on to complete her Honours degree at UCT in 2016 under the supervision of Dr. Sarah Fawcett where she focused on the nitrogen and oxygen isotopes of nitrate in the summertime Southern Ocean. Her aim was to evaluate the patterns of summertime nutrient utilization across the Atlantic Sector of the Antarctic Zone. Loving everything about Southern Ocean biogeochemical oceanography, Heather went on to complete a MSc with Dr. Sarah Fawcett and Dr. Angela Knapp (co-advisor, Florida State University (FSU), USA) in 2017 – 2020. Her MSc research focused on a basin-scale approach identifying the drivers of the Indian Sub-Antarctic biological carbon pump, with a special interest in phytoplankton group-specific contributions and the influence of the Island Mass Effect (IME). Heather is now pursuing her PhD at FSU and is taking a deeper look at how the IME enhances carbon export. Her research focuses on the Sub-Antarctic Indian sector as well as Subtropical Pacific, mapping the spatial and temporal carbon export ‘footprint’ of islands across oceans and nutrient regimes.

In addition to her PhD, Heather is part of the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE) ASAID (air-sea interactions) sub-working group and is a member of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists South African National Committee (APECSSA). Heather’s work largely falls under the current SANAP Project “A nitrogen cycle view of atmospheric CO2 sequestration in the Antarctic Ocean” (Principal Investigator: Dr. S Fawcett, UCT). Through this, Heather has had the opportunity to participate in a number of research expeditions to the Southern Ocean, present her work at both national and international conferences and attend workshops with international collaborators.

Born into a family of avid divers, sailors and fisherman, my love for the ocean was instilled in me at a young age. Our dinner table conversations often involve my parents recounting their sailing years on their home-built yacht, reminiscing over past family diving holidays and deciding on which ocean adventure we should embark on next.  The vast majority of my childhood holidays were spent wading around rockpools along the South Coast armed with a yellow bucket and red fishing net. My sister and I would collect all the dogfish we managed to coax into our nets and then redistribute them to new rockpool homes based on the size of the fish. Thank goodness the rising tides eventually drove us away and hopefully restored the ecological unrest we most likely caused. This fascination with the small South Coast rockpool ecosystems eventually grew to larger Southeast Asian coral reef biomes in my teenage years. My family immigrated to Vietnam when I was 14, and although moving to a different country was a big culture shock, it opened up a whole new region of marine exploration. Within a couple of months of moving there I became a certified diver and knew that the view from my fogged-up, leaking mask on my first dive had just cemented my future in marine sciences.  Upon matriculation, I volunteered for an NGO in southwest Madagascar where I assisted with coral reef studies, looking at both anthropogenic impacts as well as recovery rates from cyclone damage. Knowing that marine sciences was my future, I started my BSc at UCT with a balmy tropical island goal. Well…that was until I met Sarah Fawcett in my 3rd year at UCT… and I quickly traded my sandy feet, beach towel, golden tan dreams for thermal underwear, blisteringly cold winds and the raging Southern Ocean… and have never looked back!

                            I love my career in science  because of the people and the places. There is such a diverse group of people within the SANAP community and we are all striving towards a common goal – to better understand how the world works. All of our fields are so interconnected and through collaborative efforts, you have the opportunity to work with the most incredible scientists, where you get to share ideas and develop some form of understanding…only to have even more questions! Exploring curiosities and having the freedom of imagination is what drives science forward and when I find fellow scientists who share similar questions, this encourages me to continue pushing boundaries of what we know. My career in science has also taken me to the most amazing places – places I could never dream of going to with another career. From boarding a Russian research vessel in Chile, to sampling the nearshore coastline of the sub-Antarctic island of Kerguelen, to analyzing samples in a lab in the US, to data interpretation at a workshop in the UK to presenting my findings to at a conference in Switzerland… I don’t think there is another career path that would allow me to do all that! Earth Science is a constantly engaging and exciting field to be in. Things never stop… even during a pandemic. The amount of incredible discoveries and papers that have been published in 2020 alone is testament to this. The SANAP community is an impressive force, driving cutting-edge science that is crucial to our global understanding of the past, present and future Earth and is a community I am privileged to be a part of.

                   Unlike other career paths, science allows you to follow your passions and ‘immerse’ yourself in different fields. This has allowed me to pursue my interest in Southern Ocean biogeochemical research while being involved in the operational side of Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) and Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) sensor deployments and servicing along the South African coastline with the UCT Research Dive Unit. I am happiest when in or on the ocean and to be able to take part in both the research and the operational sides leaves me smiling from ear to ear.

                       Something that I find incredibly special about a career in science is it is a career your family can be involved in and get excited about. My family have been an amazing source of support throughout my scientific career. They have helped me label over 15,000 sample bottles (the Forrer family bottle labelling production line is something to behold!), load ships, move -80 freezers from East Pier to UCT and create figures for my theses. They have also met me in Switzerland and Australia after workshops or cruises and have read all of my work from beginning to end. Whenever I phone my dad, he always asks “is the ship in town?” and if the answer is “yes” he follows up with “how many bottles do we have to label, when are we loading the ship, how many trailers do we have to tow?” Although I’m still not 100% convinced my parents know exactly what I do, and often hear my mom describing my work to her friends as “the study of whale food that is saving the planet from climate change”, I definitely couldn’t have made it this far without their support, encouragement and enthusiasm.

To end, I thought I should share three tips for anyone about to embark on their scientific career:

  • Never be afraid to ask questions… and ask a lot of them! It will help you grow as a scientist, develop your curiosities and make you even more enthusiastic about your work. By asking ALL the questions, I inevitably designed my own PhD research.
  • Choose your supervisor carefully and build a good working relationship them. If you are starting a PhD, this working relationship needs to last 5 years, so make it work from the start. Supervisors are only human and can only do so much, the vast majority of the work and drive needs to come from you. I am personally very lucky to have great relationships with both of my supervisors. I started working with Sarah in my Honours year and she is now part of my PhD committee. By the time I complete my PhD, we would have been working together for close to 10 years!
  • A science degree takes a village… so build your ‘scientific village’. While there is an ‘i’ in science, it is not an individual pursuit. From sample collection, lab analyses, data interpretation and theses writing, it is all about teamwork. So, start building your network. This can involve fellow grad students, people you meet on research expeditions or at conferences, mentors from other universities etc. While they might not directly participate in your research, they help keep you motivated and excited about your work.

With that, I would like to acknowledge and thank my SANAP and greater South African ‘scientific village’; Dr. Sarah Fawcett (UCT), for your encouragement and support over the last 5 years. Ruan Parrott, Luca Stirnimann and the rest of the Fawcett Lab group for help with sample collection and analyses. Dr. Rosemary Dorrington (RU) and Dr. Tommy Bornman (SAEON) for all your contributions to ACE and the fun workshops. Dr. Bettine van Vuuren (UJ) for always encouraging me to “Just apply! What’s the worst that can happen?”. Cashifa Karriem for holding the UCT Oceanography Department together and helping with the admin side. Tahlia Henry for spending hours driving the CTD to the ocean depths for my deep water samples and for helping me with my (many) technical questions. Dr. Tommy Ryan-Keogh (CSIR) and Dr. Thato Mtshali (CSIR) for showing me the ropes when it comes to trace metal sampling and for helping me design my sampling schemes. Pieter Truter, Hazel Little-Leighton and the rest of the UCT Dive Unit for helping me pack for cruises, make incubators, service pumps and for always braving the icy Atlantic waters with me. And last but certainly not least, the APECSSA National Committee for our fun catch-ups and shared passion for collaboration between young researchers on a local and international level.

(Text and images supplied by Heather Forrer)




September Friday Freelancer – Mariëtte Wheeler

September Friday Freelancer – Mariëtte Wheeler

Mariëtte Wheeler – regular freelancer for Antarctic Legacy of South Africa was born and bred a proud Pretorian girl. But my passion for the ocean developed throughout my childhood as my grandparents lived in Knysna. In my late teens I found myself staring at the ocean, wondering what it looks like beyond the horizon.

After completing my BSc, BSc honours and MSc in Zoology at the University of Port Elizabeth (currently Nelson Mandela University), I had the opportunity to explore beyond the horizon on Marion Island in 2004–2005 as a member of M61. My PhD was done through the University of Cape Town (with Prof Les Underhill and Dr Marienne de Villiers as supervisors) and University of Pretoria (with Prof Marthán Bester as supervisor). I investigated the effect of human disturbance on the seabirds and seals at Marion Island. My team mates of M61 called me the hybrid birder-sealer as I was fortunate to work on both. I have fond memories of working closely along with the other field workers. For my behavioural observations of the animals I spent days in the cold with semi-frozen fingers and toes, but it was fantastic to be so close to these animals in their natural environment. Chocolate and condensed milk saw me through for energy. I made great friends on this trip who have been standing by me through celebrations but also the difficult times in life.

For the second year of my study I had a field assistant Prideel Majiedt on Marion Island and I supervised from here. One of my best round island trips was during the take-over of 2005 with Prideel(right), Marienne and John Cooper. John and I summited a few of the Marion hills. In 2006 I went for take-over to conduct more research on the Wandering Albatrosses.

After completing my PhD in 2009, I worked for the Southern African Butterfly Conservation Assessment (SABCA) and M2 Environmental Connections (as an environmental consultant). Thereafter I first worked as the manager of the Conservation Leadership Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and then as Biodiversity Information Specialist. A highlight in my research career was to give two presentations on my PhD work at the International Polar Year (IPY) 2010 conference in Oslo, Norway. There I also became involved with the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS). Later that year I was selected to be on the international Executive Committee (ExCom). After my term on the ExCom, I was still actively involved on the Council. In 2012, I was selected as one of the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans.

On 27 February 2013, I received a phone call from Bruce Dyer asking if I would be interested to go to Marion Island as their one birder had withdrawn from the team. I had 24 hours to decide! Fortunately the timing was perfect as my contract with EWT was until the end of February. In April 2013 I sailed again to Marion Island as Department of Environment Affairs: Oceans and Coasts birder. What an amazing feeling to see Marion Island again!  I therefore had the opportunity to travel on both the SA Agulhas and SA Agulhas II and to live in both the old base and the new base. My previous year on the island was during the construction time, so as a member of M70 I first experienced the isolation of only seeing the “Red Taxi II” a year later.  I treasure memories of braai evenings in the braai room with its beautiful views, theme parties and unique hut radio communication.

After returning from the island, Prof Underhill suggested that I study education. In his words: “There is a difference between having been there to tell a child about an albatross, or just teaching from a textbook”. I completed the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) at the University of Cape Town in 2015. During this time I also worked ad hoc. for Antarctic Legacy of South Africa (ALSA) through Facebook communication and spreading awareness at schools.

In 2016 I took up a post at Protea Heights Academy in Protea Heights (PHA), Brackenfell teaching Natural Sciences and Life Sciences. In 2018 I taught at a rural community school, Sterkspruit Christian Private School in what used to be Transkei. I lived in the picturesque Lady Grey at the foothills of the Drakensberg. In October 2018 I returned to PHA teaching Life Sciences.

PHA invited Antarctic Legacy of South Africa to take part in our Women In Science event August 2019, where Anche Louw presented on Marion Island to the school hall filled with primary and high school girls and female educators. At one point she asked learners who knew what an albatross looks like to put up their hands. Afterwards my learners proudly told me that they all had their hands up! In 2019 I was selected as 1st Runner up in the National Teacher’s Award for Excellent in Teaching Natural Sciences (GET) for Metro East and North Education Districts.

               From 2020 PHA is one of the 6 nodal schools for the new Gr 10 to 12 subject Marine Sciences, in collaboration with Two Oceans Aquarium (the writers of the curriculum). I am now the departmental head of Marine Sciences, with Shaun Seaward as colleague. I am also teaching Life Sciences. Recently my learners were involved in the first World Albatross Day. Unfortunately due to COVID, plans that John Cooper and I had to get the entire school involved could not realise. With the international Great Albicake Bake Off as inspiration, I asked my learners (who were all still in lockdown) to make, bake, draw or paint anything creative provided that there was at least one albatross on. In this way they all learned more about albatrosses and enjoyed being creative. Antarctic Legacy of South Africa (ALSA) and the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) sponsored posters and books as prizes.

I am blessed that I am able to combine both my passion in marine biology as well as education. Life does not always take you where you thought it would, and sometimes you struggle over symbolic lava such as found at Blackrocks Plateau. But if you “Just keep swimming” as Dory from Finding Nemo said, you will see beauty around you such as the flight of the albatross, a sunset at Swartkop amphitheatre or the smile of a learner. Text and images supplied by Mariette Wheeler. Visit the ALSA archive for more images of Mariette on Marion Island

GOUGH 66 departed for Gough Island on 19 September 2020.

GOUGH 66 departed for Gough Island on 19 September 2020.

Gough Island is located at 40°S, 9°W – 2600 km from East Pier, Cape Town Harbour. (Image above by Christopher Jones currently onthe Island) South Africa has been operating a weather station on Gough Island since 1956. The first overwintering team consists of 4 members , but since then the team structure has developed to include more members. The team consists of a Medical Orderly, Diesel Mechanic, Electrical Engineer and a Communications Engineer. The South African Weather Service(SAWS send a team that consist of a Senior Meteorological Technician and two Meteorological Technicians. The rest of the team is made up of 3 Field assistants of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds(RSPB). A team leader and deputy team leader are also appointed for the duration of their time.

                 (Above L-R: Tshimangadzo Jufter(Jay) Munyai  – Leader and Electrical Engineer,  Catherine(Cathy) Mbazwana – Deputy Leader and Medical Orderly, S’Celo Ndwalane – Diesel Mechanic and Gert Benadé – Communications Engineer)

                                                    (Above L-R: Zinhle(Zee) Shongwe – Senior Meteorological Technician and Meteorological Technicians (Asa) Somaxaka and Dylan Seaton (of Gough65 staying on for another year)

                                        (Above L-R: RSPB field assistants; Vonica Perold, Roelf Daling and Kim Stevens

As with Marion77 overwintering team the 2020 annual S.A. Agulhas II relief voyage to Gough Island departed on 19 September 2020 under strict Covid-19 health protocols. In the midst of these protocols and given the clear the Gough 66 made time to be part of South Africa Heritage Celebrations and answered the call by President Ramaphosa and create  a video of the #JeruslaemDanceChallenge (have a look on Facebook). Gough will stop at Tristan de Cunha on the way to Gough Island and then Gough 66 will take-over form Gough65

                                          (Above L-R: Richard Hall – Logistics Manager, Vonica  Perold, Roelf Daling and Kim Stevens – RSPB Field Asisstants and Nini van der Merwe(BirdlifeSA) with poster of restoration programme.  The Gough Island Restoration 2021 also gets underway with the departure of Gough 66. RSPB;” Six months after having made the devastating decision to postpone the 2020 restoration of Gough Island, our team is back in strength and starting to gear up for what we hope will be a 2021 mouse eradication attempt.”

               Above a few preliminary team photos (L-R: girls of 66, Team66, Guys of 66) Follow #GOUGH66 on Twitter @Antarcticlegacy and Facebook 

DEFF: International Series to be filmed on Marion Island

DEFF: International Series to be filmed on Marion Island

Department of Environment Forestry and Fisheries Media Release: International wildlife documentary series to be filmed on Marion Island16 September 2020


Following a rigorous approval process that involved key stakeholders, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) has approved a proposal by the United Kingdom (UK) based film and production company, Plimsoll Productions, to film a wildlife documentary series on Marion Island.

The approval will see film makers and scientists collaborate to ensure the continuation of important research projects on Marion Island. There are significant, globally valued long-term science and conservation projects on Marion Island that were interrupted by the COVID19 pandemic and both parties viewed this as an opportunity for collaboration.

The agreement with Plimsoll Production includes the charter of a private vessel at their own cost, with an offer to transport 7 members of the M77 over-wintering team to the island, in September 2020. This would allow for the mitigation of the impact of Covid-19 on science activities by enabling filmmakers and scientists to combine efforts to enable the continuation of field science programmes on Marion Island, as well as filming incredible natural behaviour. Some of these scientific datasets on Marion Island are nearing 40 years of uninterrupted observations.

In consultation with the Department of Science and Innovation, there was a thorough analysis of the proposed activities and a permit with very strict conditions has been issued. To monitor compliance with the permit conditions, a departmental official will accompany the film crew to ensure that they observe the necessary regulations and protocols. The proposal also went through an extremely rigorous interrogation by the Prince Edward Island Advisory Committee (PEIAC). The PEIAC was established in compliance with the Prince Edward Island Management Plan to ensure that the pristine nature of the Prince Edward Island is maintained and all activities are controlled and in compliance with the Management Plan.

In keeping with the COVID-19 prescripts and regulations, the entire team will adhere to a strict working COVID protocol. For the trip to Marion Island, the charter vessel will be de-contaminated prior to departure. A full inspection will be conducted on the vessel by DEFF to ensure compliance with environmental regulations. The entire filming team, scientists and vessel crew will all be quarantined and COVID-19 tested in the lead up to departure. All participants on the expedition will undergo full medical examinations prescribed for visitors to the Antarctic or Sub-Antarctic.

The expedition will depart from Cape Town to Marion Island in mid-September. 


For media enquiries contact:
Zolile Nqayi
Cell: 082 898 6483 

DEFF:  SA Agulhas II will depart for Gough Island under strict health protocols

DEFF: SA Agulhas II will depart for Gough Island under strict health protocols

Department of Environment Forestry and Fisheries : Media Statement – 15 September 2020 : SA Agulhas II will depart for Gough Island under strict health protocols:

The 2020 annual SA Agulhas II relief voyage to Gough Island will depart on 17 September 2020 under strict Covid-19 health protocols.

Gough Island, some 2600 km south-west of Cape Town, is very strategic for South Africa’s weather observations and forecasting. The weather data collected at Gough and Marion Islands and at SANAE IV on Antarctica, is important for the navigation of passing vessels, warning South Africa of impending severe weather systems (in the case of Gough Island), as well as providing insight into climate change. These datasets are also key to improving the accuracy of our global and regional weather forecast models.

Within the current context of the corona virus lockdown period, the schedule and the procedures were adjusted to accommodate a strict quarantine and COVID-19 testing procedure before departure, as well as a strict adherence to sanitization procedures during the loading of the vessel. The recruitment process, including psychometric testing for the expedition members, was finalised on 24 August 2020. The team also undertook training in Cape Town. Most of the team members appointed have some experience of life on Gough Island.

The strict lockdown requirements, and quarantine procedures requires a significantly reduced team for the relief voyage, that will focus on logistical functions necessary to keep the base operational. Overwintering scientific functions will be limited to maintaining the long-term meteorological record by the South African Weather Service (SAWS), and the seabird monitoring by Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) United Kingdom (UK).

All passengers will be quarantined for 10 days before departure (between 02 September and 12 September 2020) on one of the approved quarantine facilities and in accordance with requirements by the Department of Health. The passengers in quarantine will be tested for COVID-19 virus and only participants with negative test results will be allowed to continue with the voyage. At the end of the quarantine period, passengers will be transferred from the site directly to the SA Agulhas II. There will be a five-day waiting period before the departure in order to monitor that none of the passengers develop symptoms.

Gough Island is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. A lease agreement for the island was concluded with Britain in 1956 and has been renewed over the years. The annual relief voyage on the SA Agulhas II transports scientists from the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, various tertiary institutions and research agencies, with approved scientific projects. The voyage takes place annually in September, taking approximately 4 days sailing time from Cape Town to Gough Island.

The SA Agulhas II is expected to return to Cape Town on 16 October 2020.

For media enquiries contact:
Zolile Nqayi
Cell: 082 898 6483

PHOTO CREDIT: Julius Klette (image available on

Visit the South African Government's COVID-19 Information page at