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Navigating the Ocean's wonders with Mayibongwe: Aboard the RSS Discovery

Mayi on board of RRS Discovery for the AMT30. ©Mayibongwe Buthelezi

Welcome back to the AtlantECO podcast! Kickstarting season 3, in our latest episode Eloïse engages in a captivating conversation with Mayibongwe Buthelezi, a dedicated Ph.D. candidate from the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Mayibongwe shares his remarkable journey aboard the RRS Discovery earlier this year, where he implemented AtlantECO protocols during the Atlantic Meridian Transect (AMT).

A Journey from Nongoma to the Atlantic Ocean

Mayi, currently in the second year of his Ph.D. at the University of Pretoria, takes us through his remarkable journey. Born and raised in the small village town of Nongoma in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, Mayibongwe's connection with the ocean began unexpectedly during a school trip in grade 10 or 11. Despite being inland, he pursued microbiology, eventually participating in prestigious cruises, exploring the Atlantic Ocean's marginal ice zone.

Microbial Marvels in the Ocean

Mayi's research focuses on marine microbial communities, specifically bacteria and single-cell algae. He delves into the intricate world of microbial ecology, emphasising the importance of understanding microorganisms' role in processes like carbon sequestration and nitrogen cycling. His work, centred around Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), seeks to uncover microbial physiological responses to environmental fluctuations. Mayibongwe explains the significance of studying microorganisms in the ocean, highlighting how these tiny organisms, with their enormous impact, play a crucial role in maintaining Earth's balance by cycling essential gases and nutrients.

Science on board. ©Mayibongwe Buthelezi

Sailing the Atlantic Meridional Transect (AMT)

Mayibongwe shares his experience aboard the RRS Discovery during the latest AMT. The AMT, an annual multidisciplinary program, conducts biological, chemical, and physical oceanographic research between the UK and the South Atlantic. Mayibongwe's role involved collecting seawater samples for his Ph.D., contributing valuable data to the AtlantECO project.

Personal Highlights and Birthday Surprises:

Mayibongwe reflects on the unique experience of being the only representative from his region, the joy of encountering penguins in Falklands Island, and the unexpected birthday celebration during the crossing of the line. He expresses gratitude to his supervisor, Prof. Makhalanyane, and the AtlantECO programme for exposing him to these extraordinary opportunities.

Future Aspirations

Looking ahead, Mayi acknowledges current collaborators like Prof. Jonathan Todd and his research group at the University of Norwich, emphasising the importance of collaboration in DMSP research. His immediate goals include completing his Ph.D., publishing papers, and continued engagement with the AtlantECO program. Ultimately, Mayibongwe aspires to establish his own research group and collaborate with scientists globally.

Stay tuned for the next episode and more engaging conversations with scientists shaping the future of marine research.

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