Dodji Yawouvi Soviadan: zooplankton, climate and fisheries

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Dodji Yawouvi Soviadan, Togolese oceanographer, was selected from dozens of scientists to participate in the “Oceanic Plankton, Climate and Development” project initiated by the Tara Expeditions Foundation and funded by the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM). This project, which began in 2016, aims to help researchers from emerging and developing countries to reinforce their skills by working in the state-of-the-art laboratories currently analyzing planktonic data collected during the Tara Oceans expedition (2009-2013). With this project Tara’s scientific adventure opens a new chapter.
After focusing his research on oceanic vortices, Dodji recently began working on a thesis about zooplankton at the OOV (Observatoire océanologique de Villefranche-sur-Mer) based on the huge Tara Oceans database. Zooplankton, tiny organisms drifting in the ocean, involve climatic issues related to carbon sequestration, and also economic issues related especially to fishing.


Can you tell us a little about yourself ?

After my baccalaureate, I spent 4 years at the University of Lomé in Togo where I got a licence in physics, then a master’s in 2008. I then taught for 7 years in Togo and in Guinea-Conakry. In 2016, I completed a second master’s degree in Cotonou (Benin) and became a physicist-oceanographer. While doing this master’s, I became particularly interested in the impact of ocean eddies on precipitation and salinity at the ocean’s surface.

Dodji Yawouvi Soviadan


In other words…?

Eddies are almost-circular oceanic structures, also called whirlpools. Their radius can range from 10 to 300 kilometers. They are usually formed near the east coast in the border zones between a current and its countercurrent. The coasts of California and Central America are known to be places where whirlpools are generated. Recently scientists have understood that these eddies can impact the heat flux at the interface between ocean and atmosphere, but also the winds, clouds and precipitation.

After your general training in physics, why did you decide to study oceanography?

The sea is an important natural resource of my country, Togo, but we lack serious studies on the subject. I want to understand the ocean and its biodiversity, and contribute to the development of this research. On a more personal note, I grew up one kilometer from the sea. I went there very often with my parents but also alone. I went fishing for crabs and helped fishermen pull in their nets so I could observe the fish.

My generation is the first in Togo to produce oceanographers.

What is the state of marine science research in Togo?

We have no oceanography laboratory, no boat for studies at sea, very little equipment. Oceanographic research is almost non-existent, and studies in the open sea are very rare. Progress in coastal management exists, but it is minor. My generation is the first to produce oceanographers in Togo.

What subject will you be working on for your thesis in Villefranche-sur-Mer?

Thanks to the unique data from Tara Oceans, we will be able to describe the global distribution of zooplankton in 3 dimensions, in the top kilometers of the ocean. We want to determine how these organisms are distributed by size, by function in the ecosystem and identify their roles in the transformation of organic particles from the surface to the deeper ocean. Our goal is to correlate this with variables such as temperature, salinity, oxygen concentration, the presence of prey, etc. In this way we will be able to estimate zooplankton levels in different areas of the ocean and propose new algorithms.

What issues are involved in your research?

Zooplankton plays two very important roles, one climatic, the other economic. These organisms consume and produce organic particles, so they play a role in the process of atmospheric carbon sequestration by the ocean. The health of fisheries is also directly related to my research since zooplankton is the main prey of fish. Estimating the zooplankton level in the ocean will be very useful for the economy because we can predict fishing stocks – future zones rich or poor in fish.

The sea is a major resource for the Togolese economy.

In what way does your research help to answer the maritime problems of your country?

The sea is a major resource for the Togolese economy. The fishing sector employs thousands of people and contributes 4.5% of the agricultural GDP. As I explained, my research project is directly related to the economics of fishing. Faced with food insecurity in Togo, I think that our work is useful to better understand the fishing zones and implement a more sustainable exploitation of resources. People directly involved and decision makers have information, but they don’t understand the mechanisms that really control fishing. In addition, my country, like all other places in the world, is facing the impacts of climate change. My work is also related to the ocean’s role as climate regulator in sequestering carbon.

Given the reality of food insecurity in Togo, I think our work is useful to better understand fishing zones and implement more sustainable exploitation of resources.

Do you already have ideas for your future work?

At the end of my thesis, I want to continue doing research while teaching at the university. I would like to develop oceanographic research in my country, probably through projects associating Togo with other well-equipped laboratories. This thesis is for me the opportunity to acquire expertise that will then allow me to advance my country in the field of fisheries and understanding the climate. I’m counting on this collaboration between the Tara Expeditions Foundation and the FFEM to bring innovation to Togo.

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