On the crisp winter’s morning of Tuesday, 22 June, Uizip campus was abuzz with excited AEL students embarking the buses on their first academic tour of the year.
On the first leg, to the Richtersveld region, AEL visited the spectacular |Ai|Ais|-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. The nursery manager, Pieter van Wyk, who grew up in the Richtersveld and has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of its plants and animals, spent the day with AEL. He amazed the group with examples of the unique biodiversity of the park, with its variety of adaptations to survive the extremely harsh environment. He also highlighted the threat of poaching of succulents and its impact on the rare and endangered species.
Next, the group visited Alexander Bay, where Wayne Lospers of Alexcor Limited explained the responsibilities of the mining operation in terms of the environment, as well as his role as environmental officer to ensure that the mine complies with all environmental regulations. AEL took the opportunity to walk to the mouth of the Orange River (which flows past our campus – more than 500 km upstream!) and visit the Alexander Bay lichen fields, which is a rarity, even globally.
AEL ended this chapter of the tour with a visit to Beauvallon Farm at Brandkaros. The name “Beauvallon” which means “beautiful valley” is highly appropriate, as the lush crops in the Orange River valley is in dramatic contrast to the desert which surrounds it. Here, Andries Engelbrecht explained the challenges and advantages of farming in this environment, their crop selection as well as their sustainable farming practices.
The Namaqualand Coast was the next stop on the tour. The students got to cool off at Port Nolloth’s beach for a few hours en route to Kleinzee, where the group based themselves at Die Houthoop. AEL visited Viking Aquaculture, where abalone is being farmed in an environmentally sustainable way. The manager, Mike Boon, explained the biological requirements of the species, the process of growing them and the distribution network and market. This sector has the potential to grow the economy and create jobs in this poverty-stricken region.
Next, AEL was shown around the Kommagas and Kleinzee areas by the well-known Namaqualand tour guide Dudley Wessels. The group saw more unique plant species with special adaptations to survive the arid conditions. One of the highlights of the day was finding a population of conophytums (after a bit of searching) which is the only known one of its species. This really hit home how vulnerable some species are to extinction. Dudley echoed Pieter’s message about the increasing extent and impact of poaching of succulent plants. It is clearly an issue that deserves more attention.
For the last leg of the tour, AEL shifted camp to Springbok. The town was hit by a heavy storm in the late afternoon, which threatened to bring down the camp. Thanks to the efforts of one of the students’ parents, the group found a safe place to sleep in the Dutch Reformed Church Boesmanland’s hall, for the which AEL is extremely grateful. On 30 June (the last day of the tour), the group visited Goegap Nature Reserve. Maxie Jonk and her team of dedicated conservationists provided some background information on the reserve, again highlighting the unique challenges of the arid environment. Of note is how old crop fields, which were last ploughed decades ago, have not yet returned to their natural state. They also provided useful information to students that may consider a career in nature conservation, such as the different roles of each staff member.
With the tour concluded, the AEL group returned to campus with new knowledge, a better understanding of the practical implications of their academic work and a new found respect for the plants and animals that manage to survive in the most arid parts of our diverse and beautiful country.