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Fynbos Forum 2011: Fynbos and human heritage

The annual Fynbos Forum brings together researchers, academics, scientists, students, conservationists and government representatives in the fynbos region.
Delegates at the Pinnacle Point excavation site listen to Professor Curtis Marean recounting the cave’s history. This cave, as well as other caves in the area, provided shelter to early modern Homo sapiens when there was a rise in sea level about 123 000 years ago. The cave provides a well-preserved history of that occupation (Photo: Wendy Paisley)
SAEON’s Dr Nicky Allsopp won the prize for the Forum’s best short paper presentation, titled “Can we use remote sensing to monitor invasive aliens in Sand Fynbos?”
- George Sekonya, Intern, SAEON Fynbos Node


Picturesque Still Bay provided the venue for this year’s Fynbos Forum, which attracted some 250 local and international delegates. Among the international delegates were SAEON-sponsored guest Dr Nathalie Philippon (France), Professor David Ackerly (United States), Professor Curtis Marean (US) and Martina Ernszt (Germany).

The Forum was held at the Still Bay community hall on the banks of the Goukou River along the Southern Cape coast. The theme for this year’s event, Fynbos and human heritage, was reflected in the Forum’s poster sessions, workshops, keynote address and symposium.

The Forum plays a critical role in the evaluation of scientific knowledge and research, which involves taking into account various aspects of conservation such as socio-economic issues, resources and institutional capacity. This is important especially when dealing with issues which require a holistic approach such as alien invasive species management and control. This year attention was focused on climate change, alien invasive species, sustainable resource use, restoration ecology and public participation in conservation.

A good take-home message for delegates was the large-scale conservation initiatives undertaken by the community.

The staff of SAEON’s Fynbos Node participated in the Forum under the leadership of Node Manager Dr Nicky Allsopp. Nicky and Victoria Goodall, the node’s Data Manager, presented short papers titled “Can we use remote sensing to monitor invasive aliens in Sand Fynbos?” and “Analysis of long-term trends in a fynbos catchment” respectively.

Microclimates, climate change and conservation

Professor David Ackerly from the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, gave an interesting talk titled “Microclimates, climate change and conservation”, in which he emphasised the importance of small-scale environmental monitoring. He highlighted the relationship between topographical heterogeneity, microclimate variation, plant dispersal potential and climate change, and the niches that can be provided by small-scale climate variability over short distances. This small-scale variability may provide habitat that enables plants to survive in patches across broad landscapes with the changing climate.

The Forum exhibition was well supported by local schools and the general public. Among the exhibitors were the Hessequa Heritage Initiative, WESSA’s Eco school exhibition, the Hessequa Melkfontein Initiative, Hessequa Henque waste recycling project and the Still Bay Marine Protected Reserve.

An afternoon devoted to field trips normally represents the highlight of the Forum. This year was no exception, with nine field trips scheduled for the day. This saw delegates venturing out to see what Still Bay and the surrounding areas have to offer in terms of conservation, tourism and scientific research.

Pinnacle Point excavation site

Still Bay is situated in a floristically diverse area with 14 different vegetation types within a radius of 50 km, which had the botanists excited. Themes covered included the archaeology and geology of the Pinnacle Point excavation site, the use of medicinal plants, sustainable farming practices, wetlands protection initiatives, birding, threatened plants and nature conservation at local authority level.

The trip to the Pinnacle Point excavation site provided an insight into to the evolution of early modern humans. The trip was led by Professor Curtis Marean, the Palaeoanthropologist in charge of the Pinnacle Point excavations. The excavations have revealed some interesting facts, among others that between 195 000 and 123 000 years ago an ice age rendered much of the African continent cool and arid. Curtis postulates that only a few regions would have supported humans in that period, namely those with grassland and Mediterranean scrub vegetation. This provides for an argument that the Southern coast would have provided a hospitable environment, thanks to the edible corms and bulbs of the fynbos and the rich shellfish beds supported by both the cold Benguela and the Agulhas currents (Marean, 2010).

Local conservation initiatives

A good take-home message for delegates was the large-scale conservation initiatives undertaken by the community. Local Conservationist Janet Naudé gave an overview of Still Bay’s conservation history, challenges and highlights. Most of the conservation initiatives are community-based and local people are actively involved through volunteering in the conservation of their rich natural and cultural heritage sites, which include the Still Bay Conservation Trust and the late Dr Tol Pienaar’s Herbarium.


Marean, C.W. When the sea saved humanity, Scientific American, 2010.

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