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Of new horizons and sad farewells

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Dr Amani Saidi - researcher, administrator and operations manager par excellence

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The 2014 ILTER meeting will be held in Chile, with a field trip down south to the Omora Ethnobotanical Park in the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve. Map: greenwichmeantime.com

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Ethno-ornithology is a central research line at Omora Park, blending scientific and indigenous perspectives on the habitats and habits of birds and humans. In Yahgan, omora signifies the green-backed firecrown hummingbird (Sephanoides sephaniodes), but it also occupies a central place in Yahgan cosmology, whereby it is understood to be a bird and at the same time a small person-spirit that maintains social and ecological order. Source: LTSER-Chile website

By Johan Pauw, Managing Director, SAEON

This edition of SAEON eNews has been timed to coincide with the second biennial conference of the Global Change Research Community at the Port Elizabeth campus of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU).

The wide range of conference papers will include key papers presented by SAEON and its collaborators based on long-term environmental observations and related topics. This edition of the newsletter is therefore a tangible contribution from SAEON to the deliberations of the conference.

The Global Change Conference was preceded by two SAEON Summits held in 2006 and 2010 respectively. By their very nature, papers resulting from long-term observations require time to acquire sufficient data and it was for this reason that SAEON scheduled the SAEON Summit on a four-yearly basis.

The biennial schedule of the Global Change Conference has now superseded the SAEON Summit and the latter will therefore not be organised for as long as the Conference will be held. However, SAEON will continue to contribute to all relevant science meetings, and will organise frequent special sessions such as the Tierberg session presented by the Arid Lands Node as part of the recent Arid Zone Ecology Forum.

Bidding farewell to SAEON stalwart, Dr Amani Saidi

Due to my inability to come to terms with the loss we all are feeling, I have delayed to announce the departure of one of the cornerstones of the SAEON organisation, Dr Amani Saidi. Amani first served SAEON as Stakeholder Relations Manager and then as Operations Manager.

In his latter role, he was the one who kept SAEON's business running smoothly and aligned to the increasing demands on the administration of public entities. By virtue of his impeccable manners and amicable personality, he was the one who managed to resolve conflicts and to overcome inter-organisational challenges.

As an accomplished researcher himself, he was able to support the SAEON nodes with a sound understanding of their business requirements. His considerable report-writing skills and ability to focus on detail made it a pleasure for me to be accountable for SAEON's administration - simply because I was able to rely 100% on Amani for keeping the order and the rhythm of our business.

Amani's legacy is a capacitated and sound administration system that allows SAEON to run effectively and efficiently in pursuit of our goals. It should be clear to anyone that SAEON's organisation is unusual in that it is structured as a hub-and-spoke organisation, consisting of six remote nodes and a national office. Most of the nodes became operational after 2006 and it was during this period of growth that Amani laid the foundations for the administration of an organisation that is capable of producing excellent science and clean audit reports simultaneously.

Prior to joining SAEON, Amani strengthened his abilities by achieving both a PhD in Environmental Science and an MBA. Together, these qualities made him a superb Operations Manager in a scientific organisation. We are still trying to come to terms with the void his departure has left us with and I can assure you that it is a tough job trying to manage the responsibilities that he used to shoulder.

2014 ILTER meeting

As I am writing this piece, I am also packing my bag to attend the annual International Long-Term Ecological Research Network (ILTER) meeting to be held in Chile this year. ILTER is the international mother organisation of SAEON and unique because it is a site-based approach rather than a thematic programme.

The realisation that university research is mainly performed through students and therefore often short term and fragmented, led the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the USA to establish the US LTER. This programme offers large grants for the maintenance of experimental sites across the USA, and for the associated long-term research on ecosystems. The NSF soon led the establishment of the ILTER, recognising that the USA is interdependent, with the rest of the world, on Earth systems functioning.

The various member countries are differently organised. SAEON became a member of ILTER in 2002. ILTER recently started to perform global research projects across LTER sites and has also contributed to new initiatives in information management, such as the development of Ecological Metadata Language (EML).

The network in Chile is part of a movement within ILTER, called LTSER (Long-term Socio-Ecological Research), and the meeting will include a field trip down south to the Omora Ethnobotanical Park in the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve. This biosphere reserve protects the southernmost forest ecosystems of the world.

According to its website, the Omora Park's establishment has involved scientists, philosophers, artists and other professionals from Chile and abroad. This interdisciplinary team has worked to unify research, education and conservation activities and has placed a strong emphasis on what has become the park's slogan: “Linking biocultural conservation and social wellbeing from the southern end of the Americas.”

I hope to return with new insights that will continue to enrich SAEON.

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