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Meet the team

By Sue van Rensburg, Coordinator, SAEON Grasslands Forests Wetlands Node

Team spirit. New team members Matthew Becker (left), Siya Moloi (third from left), Jack Moleko (centre) and Monique Nunes (right) with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife staff. (Picture: Sue van Rensburg)

In recent months, SAEON’s Grasslands Forests Wetlands Node has become a humming hub of activity. Two new technicians were appointed to fill vacant posts and the node is hosting three DST/NRF interns.

Matthew Becker

Matthew joined the team in April. With a sound grounding in meteorological-hydrological training, he brings a diverse set of skills to the node - from processing data from sophisticated instrumentation to practical technical skills. Matthew is a genius at making things and finding innovative solutions to what are sometimes challenging field problems. Being a keen hiker and adventure seeker, he is at home working in the field. Matthew’s passion for life and driven spirit is an inspiration to all.


Matthew brings a diverse set of skills to the node. (Photo: Monique Nunes)


Mojaki Moleko and Siyabonga Moloi

Mojaki (aka Jack) and Siyabonga (aka Siya) also joined the node in April as DST/NRF interns on a one-year contract. Both with a background in information technology and data management, they are bringing much needed capacity to the node’s IT and data processing requirements. Their desire to learn, dedication to their tasks and willingness to grow and engage with new experiences - some of which may be a little out of the usual comfort zone of prior experience – have been inspirational.

Their orientation trip to St Lucia was a first-time experience in a protected area for Siya. Jack had previously experienced Addo Elephant National Park, but still thrived on his experiences in iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Both interns have demonstrated a willingness to engage with all the activities at the node and seem to have taken to the joys of field work, happy to tuck into and help with some of the mucky, often wet and power-hungry field tasks.

Exposing and making them a part of the data collection activities in the field builds an appreciation for the data management cycle as a whole. Later in the year they will see how some of the data projects they work on will be brought to life through the “story” the data tell. Not only is their exposure to the SAEON information management systems providing them with work-based experience in their field of expertise, but they are also learning more about global change science and the link between science and information management.

And for those staff members who are slightly technologically challenged, it is an added bonus to have on-site "go to" people for IT hardware and gremlin issues!

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Jack (left) takes notes on his iPad while Siya learns how to use the node’s electronic drip meter used to measure groundwater level in iSimangaliso Wetland Park. (Picture: Sue van Rensburg)

Jack fell in love with the peace of the Drakensberg. (Picture: Sue van Rensburg)



Monique Nunes

Monique started working at the node at the beginning of May, also as a DST/NRF Intern. Monique completed her MSc in estuarine ecology with Professor Janine Adams of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Her aim is to gain experience in the scientific arena and use this towards establishing herself as a respected ecologist.

Within her first few weeks at the node, her efficiency and ease of competently taking on a range of tasks from bolting weir plates, setting up an office recycling programme to administration and developing ideas around the science outreach programme bode well for the node. Her proactive sense of initiative is contagious. She has already volunteered for some big projects for the year, including exploring and developing a water quality monitoring programme proposal for a possible greater St Lucia catchment-to-coast programme.


Monique (right) after a long walk through Mfabeni swamp in iSimangaliso Wetland Park with Matthew (left) and Sbu from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. (Picture: Sue van Rensburg)


Paul Gordijn

Paul, the newest team member, joined the node at the beginning of June as a field technician. Paul’s real passion is botany. Having worked extensively in protected areas for his MSc on the impact of elephants on vegetation, as well as working for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife he is very familiar with the bush and Big Five Country. Well versed in information management and relationship databases as well as statistics, SAEON will be drawing on his expertise for field work as well as his data processing and GIS skills.



Paul in his element - surrounded by the flora of the Drakensberg. (Picture: Nicky Gordijn)


Paul and Matthew form a complementary team, with Matthew overseeing the instrument arrays and associated data and Paul forming the backbone in the development and implementation of the vegetation programmes planned for St Lucia and Cathedral Peak, as well as other emerging sites.

Together with the extra capacity the interns are bringing, the Grasslands Forests Wetlands Node is poised to start making its mark ...


At home on land and water, staff from SAEON’s Grasslands Forests Wetlands Node work on Lake St Lucia to assist the Elwandle Node with salinity monitoring. (Picture: Monique Nunes)

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