Talk Report – May 2018

Planting a seed: Life as an environmental educator
– By Sheraine van Wyk, Whale Coast Conservation Manager (21 April 2018)

After her talk and applause there was quiet as we digested all that Sheraine and her team do. Then followed  questions, and many of them.

Sheraine leads a small team within the Whale Coast Conservation (WCC) NGO (see  http://whalecoastconservation.org.za/). Small in funding and numbers, it was an eye-opener to discover what this NGO does at schools and home schools with the help of adult volunteers.  Their motto, ‘Respect and Protect’, operates in four areas:

  1. Advocacy (laws and regulations)
  2. Education and awareness
  3. Technological projects, and
  4. Ecological responsibility.

An informative short video summarising what the WCC does can be found at https://youtu.be/xGojQBxFWWE. It is certainly worth watching.

Sheraine described some of WCC’s projects:

Stanford Mill Stream Improvement Project

This is a citizen science project in Stanford that has had important environmental restoration consequences. It was initially created to give volunteers the knowledge and skills to identify frog species and then record frog monitoring data.

It was discovered that while there was a fair number of frog species present in the urban area, they were absent in the dam and stream. This suggested that the water could be polluted, as frogs don’t inhabit polluted areas. Testing of the water showed positive for the presence of  nitrates and faecal coliforms in the stream.

As a consequence, an environmental improvement plan was put in place, which involved consulting and including the communities affected.

It took two years to cut down the Phragmites  reeds – a process which needs to be repeated every two years. The cut-back is removed because  the die-back pollutes, with high nitrogen content causing algae bloom which destroys indigenous vegetation. With no diversity of plant or animal life, the dragonflies had disappeared. Now, where the reeds have been cleared, three species of dragonflies have returned.

Initially, a basket making venture was tried, making use of the cut reeds, but the reeds were found to be too fragile. And so a second venture was started… Now about 20 Hermanus restaurants are using drinking straws made from these reeds. In addition, shredded reed stems are being used as a healthier substitute for paraffin in cooking and heating.

Backed by a R30 000 municipal grant, 20 students attended an eco-camp at Stanford. They worked on a large-scale clean-up and monitoring of the Mill Stream.

Chameleon Relocation Pilot Project

This project was born when Sheraine joined a group of local enthusiasts to go chameleon-spotting. A group from Hermanus one evening took along their torches and managed to spot about 70 chameleons in the first area they visited!  Two days later, the area was bulldozed. This was the birth of the Chameleon Relocation Pilot Project. Sheraine proposed that the remaining chameleons be relocated to a safer area and their survival rate be monitored to determine if relocation is a viable option for chameleons.

A research permit was granted by CapeNature, and a potential safe habitat was identified for the chameleons’ release. There had to be suitable vegetation and no resident chameleons, as they are territorial animals.

During February, a group of 40 intern students and scientists from Cape Nature and SANBI arranged  to search an area comprising fynbos,  restios and Port Jackson. When a chameleon was found, the animal, together with the vegetation it was found on, was carefully removed for transportation to the Rehab Centre. The animal was not touched, but was photographed and measured.  Age, sex, and body patterns were recorded and retained in a Chameleon Library. The chameleons were then boxed and taken to a ‘safe’ area such as the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. A young scout from the group became so involved that he received his Presidents Award as a result of his work in this field.

Youth Education Project (YEP) in schools

WCC has initiated a number of programmes that deliver top-class environmental education to young people at school. Each school registered as a YEP school is entitled to one visit per term to the WCC Green House for a lesson and relevant displays on the theme for the term. The lessons  need to adhere to the National curriculum. WCC staff also assist schools in celebrating special days such as Earth Day, Walking for  Water, International Coastal Clean-up, and Arbor Week. Teacher  environmental education is offered through workshops and short courses, and WCC Resource Centre is available for teachers to make use of. WCC also offers holiday programmes and activities, as well as eco-camps.

WCC funding

Because NGOs cannot rely exclusively on outside funding and grants, and communities need jobs, WCC has initiated a small business, making and selling doggie-poo bag dispensers. This venture brings in funds for WCC and provides much-needed jobs for community members.

Kogelberg Branch donation

Kogelberg Bot Soc have donated an amount to WCC for a school camp. For more information, see our monthly Newsletter, or visit the WCC website (chttp://whalecoastconservation.org.za/).

Thanks to Sheraine and her team of wonderful workers for what they are doing to look after our corner of this earth.

Andrea Benn

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