Top environmentalists at Fynbos Forum

Nature shows no mercy when environmental mistakes are made that can cost municipalities, developers, and insurers millions of Rands – this is unacceptable as costly blunders can be avoided if correct environmental practices are followed,
This is according to Professor Richard Cowling, renown and local botanist who gave the opening address at the Fynbos Forum conference at Cape St Francis Resort last month.
Professor Cowling provided an overview of how important it was for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) to be done meticulously prior to development. Problems have arisen mainly thorough ignorance in the early days before EIAs were prescribed, Cowling quoted local problems in the St Francis area such as the stabilisation of the headland bypass dune system leading to beach loss, water courses being diverted and dams being built which led to siltation of the Kromme River.
Cowling’s greatest concern currently was the proposed building of a nuclear power station at Thuyspunt in the dynamic and highly unpredictable dune field where extreme weather conditions exacerbated problems. Sediment flows, commonly encountered in this system, washed away the bridge over the Sand River Bridge last year. It was not the first sediment flow and will not be the last one.

Students of the University of the Western Cape Nicole Bauer Schmidt, Lyle Lucas and Alexis Osborne discussed their work on the ‘Silent Invader at the UWC Nature Reserve’ to local botanist from St Francis Bay, Caryl Logie, at the conference

The conference was attended by 250 delegates, who were top environmentalists in various fields of study, particularly in the fynbos biome..
The forum presented an opportunity for all to discuss research results and management issues. Priorities for future research were also formulated while conservation management actions to ensure conservation and sustain ability of fragile fynbos ecosystems were discussed.
The Resort was highly commended and Tessa Olivier, Chairman of the Fynbos Forum, said at the closing function that they had enjoyed the best meals ever at their annual conference. She congratulated and thanked the management and staff for going out of their way to ensure that everything ran smoothly.
Professor Brian Huntley provided the first keynote address with a talk entitled “Strategic opportunism in the pursuit of conservation goals.” He stressed the need for change in one’s values and way of thinking. He also underscored the necessity for young scientists to produce a scenario for the future.
Professor John Silander from the University of Connecticut provided an historical perspective of “Ecology and evolution in the fynbos: the view from North America” and focused initially on how Darwin was influenced to really look at plants. This led to Darwin’s theory on the origin of the species. Silander has several students studying in South Africa at present, particularly fynbos species.
Frank Schurr spoke on “The value of Proteaceae for the understanding and conservation of Fynbos ecosystems” and Brian van Wilgen provided “An assessment of the effectiveness of Working for Water in controlling invasive alien plants in South Africa.” Much of South Africa has been invaded by alien species which cause problems for the ecosystem.
Dr Guy Preston, Deputy Director General of the Department of Environmental Affairs ended the proceedings and stressed the importance of everyone becoming aware of dealing with conservation in its entirety. One has to work across disciplines, build capacity, and form partnerships,” he said.
Posters were another feature of the conference and covered topics such ecology, climate change, invasive aliens, stewardship, conservation, and biodiversity.
Delegates went on various field trips in the area visiting the local fynbos reserves, and witnessing the dynamics of local coastal dune and beach ecosystems, the dynamics of the St Francis Oyster Bay dune ecosystem, the botanical aspect of the development of the Links, penguin rehabilitation, birds of the area, and marine features.
The resort was praised for its hospitality, good organisation and enjoyable meals.