67% of seals are at risk of entanglement in oceanic plastic pollution, UP review of global data suggests

Researchers at the Mammal Research Institute (MRI) and the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the University of Pretoria (UP) have conducted a global review of studies on the entanglement of pinnipeds in oceanic plastic pollution, and found that 67% of these aquatic mammals are at risk of entanglement. Pinnipeds have front and rear flippers, and the group includes seals, sea lions and walruses.

Emma Jepsen & Professor Nico de Bruyn. Picture: Chris Oosthuizen

July 8, 2019

  • Professor Nico de Bruyn
Professor Nico de Bruyn did his undergraduate studies at the University of Pretoria (UP) and began doing research in 2001. He has been a full-time academic staff member at UP since 2010, and conducts research and mentors postgraduate students.

Prof De Bruyn says that his research generates knowledge, and builds capacity, innovation and insight, and adds that he enjoys doing research because he is interested in understanding the natural world better and providing support through research for its conservation.

His research, which focuses on how individuals respond to intrinsic and extrinsic drivers, allows for a better understanding of how populations respond to changing environments, be that due to climate change or other drivers. Lessons learnt inform both management and conservation policies and interventions.

Prof De Bruyn leads the multidisciplinary, internationally collaborative Marion Island Marine Mammal Programme (MIMMP), a unique research programme that has continued uninterrupted for the past 40 years. “Keeping this large programme, field presence and data collection going is a highlight in itself,” Prof De Bruyn says.

He says that various people have inspired him at different stages of his development, including his parents, his wife, children, schoolteachers, university lecturers, mentors, friends and colleagues. “I would be hard-pressed to isolate a single event or person that has inspired me, as there are many. The wild places in the world that I have had the privilege to visit or work in have been tremendously inspirational, and have motivated me to protect and understand them for future generations.”

Prof De Bruyn’s mission is to attain balance in his academic work and research endeavours, saying that he works to make a difference to people, their prospects and the conservation of our natural world. “If I can make an impact and continue to do so on those fronts, then I am happy.”

He advises school learners or undergraduates who are interested in his field to be determined and to work towards whatever inspires them and they find enjoyment in – that way, working hard will always be easy. “Don’t work for accolades,” he says. “Always try your best and expect others to do the same in return. If they don’t and you do, then try your best elsewhere. If your best is not good enough now, just try again and always work towards improving yourself. That way the world will want your skills. Finally, get used to the fact that the world is fundamentally unfair, so don’t wait for anyone to give you anything – go out and get it.”

For recreation, Prof De Bruyn plays and watches cricket. He also loves being in remote places, far away from electronic devices. He is a birder, a “reader of books printed on paper”, and enjoys brewing his own beer and braaiing.
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