Change the world


Janine Adams


Professor Janine Adams

Faculty: Science, Institute for Coastal and Marine Research

Biosketch of Interim Chair Professor Janine Adams

Prof Adams’ current research focus areas are blue carbon ecosystems and response to climate change, mangrove and salt marsh ecology, and water quality management of estuaries.

Prof Adams plays an important role in ensuring that science and knowledge of aquatic environments is communicated to managers and policymakers.

She has published over 150 articles in peer-reviewed research journals and has made a significant contribution to global knowledge on shallow-water ecosystems.  

Her work is nationally and internationally acclaimed, and she is regularly sought out as an expert on international scientific panels and symposiums.

She is currently Associate Editor for the international journal Wetlands and for a special issue on southern hemisphere estuaries and coasts for the journal Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science.  Prof Adams is involved with collaborative projects with the University of Rennes; France, University of Essex; the United Kingdom, Eduardo Mondlane University; Mozambique, University of Oldenburg; Germany,  and the University of Wollongong; Australia. 

In South Africa, Prof Adams works with scientists from a wide range of institutes, including the CSIR, the University of the Western Cape, the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity and the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON).

She has an excellent postgraduate training record and has successfully supervised over 55 masters and PhD students throughout her career.

She works tirelessly to train the next generation of research scientists.  As a role model for woman scientists and with her dedication, passion and enthusiasm, she leads by example and ensures that postgraduate students have a quality education through exposure to diverse opportunities.

In 2015, Prof Adams was awarded the silver medal of the Southern African Society of Aquatic Sciences and in 2013 and 2017 she received the Nelson Mandela University researcher of the year award.

She is a fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, which aims to foster and advance science in South Africa and has served as Chairperson of the Water Research Commission.

Relevance of research

Water is a scare commodity in southern Africa, where many aquatic ecosystems are currently on a trajectory of rapid deterioration. The sustainable use of our water resources, and their rehabilitation where necessary, requires that adaptive management structures are continuously provided with scientific knowledge on the processes that govern shallow water ecosystems and their health.

Current research interests

Shallow water ecosystems, particularly estuaries, with a focus on:

  • Conservation and management of estuaries
    • including environmental flow requirements, ecological health & importance indices
  • Blue carbon ecosystems and responses to climate change
    • Salt marsh, mangroves, seagrasses
  • Ecophysiology of estuarine macrophytes
  • Water quality management and harmful algal blooms


2018 - 2019

Between land and sea are 290 estuaries

South Africa has 290 estuaries and 42 micro-estuaries urgently in need of formal protection, with priority areas identified in the new National Biodiversity Assessment.

Estuaries form the critical interface between the land and the sea. They are nursery areas for fish; they prevent river banks from eroding, providing protection against floods; they produce detritus on which animals, such as crabs, feed; and they take up nutrients and act as water filters.

“Our research is focused on the conservation and management of estuaries throughout South Africa, and we work closely with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI),” says Professor Janine Adams, who holds the interim SARChI Chair in Shallow Water Ecosystems.


Prof Adams has written chapters on the health of South Africa’s estuaries for this year’s National Biodiversity Assessment. Published every five years, the report provides an assessment of the country’s terrestrial, marine, coastal and estuarine environments.

To produce the report Prof Adams and her research group worked with 14 other institutions around the country, including universities, government departments, and conservation organisations to understand the pressures on our estuaries, including freshwater inflow, pollution, water quality status, fishing pressure, invasive alien species, and climate change responses. From this, they are able to track the health and status of estuaries.

“The assessment identifies priority systems that urgently need to be protected, and we are advocating the proclamation of priority Estuarine Protected Areas,” says Prof Adams. “We have 20 new Marine Protected Areas, some of which have estuarine zones, but these only go to the high water mark, which is a problem, as estuaries include the surrounding land up to 5m above sea level and inland to as much as 30km,” Prof Adams explains.

South Africa’s estuaries are classified as: estuarine lakes (such as St Lucia); estuarine bays (such as Knysna); predominantly open systems (such as the Swartkops, Gamtoos, Sundays, Mbashe, Mngazana); temporary closed systems – most of South Africa’s estuaries are this type (such as the Seekoei and Kabeljous); South Africa’s only estuarine lagoon – Langebaan; fluvially dominated systems (river mouths) (river mouths), such as the Tugela, Kei and Orange Rivers; arid temporal systems, which function approximately every ten years (such as the West Coast’s Groen, Spoeg and Bitter Rivers); and micro-estuaries.

Prof Adams’ research group includes three research fellows, 15 postgraduates and three research interns. “We work nationally and globally in big teams,” Prof Adams explains. “In South Africa we work with Stellenbosch University, Rhodes, Wits, UCT, UKZN, UWC and the University of Zululand. Internationally we work with the University of Glasgow, Scotland, on salt marshes (an estuary habitat), and with Wollongong University in New South Wales, Australia, on climate change and carbon storage.” As part of the Australian collaboration, Adams contributed to an article entitled “Wetland carbon storage controlled by millennial-scale variation.

In relative sea-level rise” with lead author Prof Kerrylee Rogers of Wollongong University, published in Nature in March 2019.

Prof Adams explains that the southern hemisphere will gain carbon with sea level rise because mangrove and wetland soils will be flooded and depleted of dissolved oxygen, which slows down the decomposition of organic matter and therefore becomes a carbon store. This opens opportunities for carbon offsetting; in Kenya, for example, communities in Gazi Bay, by looking after their mangroves, gain carbon credits, which are then sold to companies wishing to offset their carbon footprint.

“In South Africa we are conducting long-term monitoring of South Africa’s mangrove swamps in the intertidal habitat, because with climate change they are moving down our east coast.” Mangroves in South Africa exist at one of the most southerly limits in the world, providing a unique opportunity to study recovery and resilience to change.