LOCAL ichthyologist, Mike Bruton, was given the rare Royal Society of South Africa’s Marloth Medal for his contribution to science. Bruton with his book What A Great Idea. Picture: Carolynn Bruton.
LOCAL ichthyologist, Mike Bruton, was given the rare Royal Society of South Africa’s Marloth Medal for his contribution to science. Bruton with his book What A Great Idea. Picture: Carolynn Bruton.

Cape Town coelacanth researcher receives lifetime award for his work

By Amber Court Time of article published Nov 29, 2020

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A CAPE Town coelacanth researcher has received a rare lifetime award for his contribution to the field of science and lifelong service to academics.

The Royal Society of South Africa, a network of scientists, has found a new home for the Marloth Medal.

This prestigious medal was awarded to Professor Mike Bruton, an ichthyologist, who was notified that he had won the award earlier this week.

It was originally given to Dr James Smith, who identified the first coelacanth found in South Africa in 1938, and his student Doug Rivett.

At the time, the coelacanth which was thought to have gone extinct.

Making the announcement, the president of the Royal Society Professor Stephanie Burton said: ‘’The breadth of Bruton’s academic and public career in the communication of science is remarkable and rare. He is a fully deserving candidate for the award, in recognition of his lifelong contribution to academic science and the public understanding of science,” she said.

Bruton received his master of science and PhD from Rhodes University in Makhanda (Grahamstown), based on research he conducted on freshwater fish in Zululand and elsewhere in Africa.

He was the first head of the department of ichthyology & fisheries science at Rhodes and is the director of the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, in Makhanda.

He was later appointed as the head of education at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town where he developed the education and public awareness programmes.

Bruton was the founding director of what is now the Cape Town Science Centre and is now retired.

However, he continues to contribute knowledge and understanding as a specialist consultant on science education, an author of popular science books.

His parallel careers in scientific research comprises over 120 peer-reviewed scientific papers and chapters in books, 31 books and over 800 popular articles.

As an author his recent books include his autobiography, When I was a Fish.

His next book, on African innovations, will be published in June next year.

“Often people are recognised only after they have died. It is nice for my work to be recognised while I am still around. I am not by any stretch of the imagination SA’s best scientist,” said Bruton.

Known as the coelacanth man, he said that many other people have done far more research than he has.

He added that the coelacanth story is a great way to get people from all walks of life to be interested in science.

“To some extent science is threatened at the moment, by anti-science and fake news campaigns,” he added.

Besides this lifetime achievement award he said that his most important research contributions were on the life cycles and life-history strategies of freshwater fish.

“This mainly involves studying the ways in which they breed and look after their young, which varies from animals, to the strategies of mammals, including humans,” he said.

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