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"Badibene eBhayi" – The 7th Annual Indibano! As it happened …

Article by Arrey Ivo Agbor and Tlou Masehela, with inputs and contributions by Sindiso Chamane and Laura Danga

The much anticipated SAEON Graduate Student Network (GSN) Indibano finally took place in the week of 5 to 8 September 2014, welcoming 29 delegates from 11 different South African universities.

Convening for the seventh consecutive year, the Indibano serves as a platform to build research networks in both a conference and workshop style. The event was held at the Ibhayi Town Lodge in the “friendly city” of Port Elizabeth.

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Indibano 2014 delegates with the GSN committee members as well as Ms Beate Hölscher (SAEON National Office) and Dr Albrecht Gӧtz (SAEON Elwandle Node) at Ibhayi Town Lodge (Picture: Victor Modiba)

This year’s Indibano was aimed at enlightening delegates about the aspects of long-term environmental monitoring and its relevance to decision making. The exceptional SAEON Elwandle Node team led by the prominent Dr Tommy Bornman captivated the delegates by showcasing some of their research activities and intriguing findings through presentations and field excursions.

Day one

In kick-starting the conference proceedings, GSN Committee Coordinator Tlou Masehela delivered a brief welcome message to the delegates. Dr Albrecht Gӧtz, whose research focuses on anthropogenic and climate induced long-term change in coastal fish and invertebrate communities, set the tone with an informative yet catchy presentation.

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“..out and about…” Dr Tommy Bornman, Manager of SAEON’s Elwandle Node, gives a brief talk to delegates on their arrival at one of the estuaries around Algoa Bay (Picture: Victor Modiba)

The floor was then open for delegates to share their findings in their respective fields of study by means of presentations. The four outlined sessions were Terrestrial, Freshwater, Estuary and Marine. A total of 22 presentations were delivered across all sessions. The interesting research topics and presentations prompted questions from delegates as well as constructive discussions and comments.

The day’s programme was concluded with a presentation by one of the invited speakers, Dr Ntuthuko Masikane (Zoology lecturer at the University of Fort Hare), who spoke about monitoring environmental health in South African marine ecosystems using benthics.

Day two

A keynote address by the manager of SAEON’s Elwandle Node, Dr Tommy Bornman, highlighted some of the important monitoring activites undertaken by the Node within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). His talk was followed by a guided tour to Algoa Bay and the Addo Elephant National Park.

At Algoa Bay, delegates gained insight into the importance of estuaries and how they maintain their elevation regardless of rising sea levels. Addo Elephant National Park was the next stop, where delegates not only had a chance to see some of the park’s iconic animals, but also learnt more about management and conservation initiatives within the park itself.

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…learning is fun…” Delegates take part in a group activity under the guidance of Tercia Strydom, GSN committee member for marketing. Group members had to guide their “blindfolded” fellow in reconstructing an image presented to them. (Picture: Tlou Masehela)

Back at the conference venue, delegates were familiarised with various statistical modelling methods for monitoring the movements and behaviour of large mammals, antelopes in particular. Dr Victoria Goodall from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University further advised delegates on the importance of seeking statistical advice when planning and carrying out research projects, as this has implications for the findings and how they can be applied in decision making.

The last activity of the day required delegates to don their creativity caps and work hand in hand for the interactive group activity. Three groups, each comprising six or more delegates, geared up for two activities which were aimed at enhancing self confidence, advancing personal cohesion, coping under pressure, being creative, sharpening leadership skills and many more.

Day three

In essence, no one was looking forward to this day as it had goodbyes written all over it! It was however never going to be a dull one.

Prof. Brad Ripley from Rhodes University kick-started the day with an exciting presentation on the response of crops, invasive plants and natural ecosystems to current and future climates. This included the effects of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere and other physical factors on C4 grasses.

In his talk, he highlighted the expenses associated with designing monitoring programmes and conducting research. He also mentioned that state-of-the-art equipment requires a huge capital injection and further investment for maintenance. He concluded: “What can be achieved with all the equipment at hand is ultimately priceless information, vital for management and decision-making in relevant fields.”

Finally, on behalf of the adjudication team, Ms Beate Hӧlscher, SAEON’s Research Administrator, took the lead in awarding the prizes for the best delegate presentations. She expressed satisfaction with the quality displayed by delegates in the preparation and delivery of their presentations and stressed that the judges had a difficult task selecting the winning presentations.

Mr Samuel Motitsoe (Rhodes University) scooped top honours for his presentation entitled “Mapping nitrogen loading in freshwater systems: using aquatic biota to trace nutrient”. The first runner-up was Mr Basanda Nondlazi (University of the Witwatersrand) and the second runner-up was Ms Humbelani Thenga (University of KwaZulu-Natal).

Probably the most exciting prize for delegates was the Delegate’s (People’s) Choice Award; based on the votes of the attendees themselves. Under this category, Ms Mendy Shozi from the University of KwaZulu-Natal was the deserving winner at this year’s Indibano.

 

Delegates share their impressions of Indibano 2014…

My greatest achievement was sharing my research work among a diversity of disciplines and learning more about marine and freshwater monitoring. I enjoyed the Indibano” – Evan Mauda (University of Venda)

"SAEON-GSN Indibano 2014 was an exciting experience and a great networking platform. Every young science graduate would love to be part of it. I was honoured to experience how passionate delegates were about spreading awareness about the importance of environmental monitoring and conservation." – Samuel Motitsoe (Rhodes University)

Being part of Indibano 2014 made me appreciate the great effort researchers are putting in towards ensuring that ecosystems are protected for future generations. I feel I haven’t started yet.” – Olujimi Osidele (University of Venda)

I have mostly been quiet during the conference but one thing is for sure - I have learnt a lot, which will help me to improve the standard of my current academic paper as well as selecting the best applicable methodologies. The Indibano was very motivating.” – Qaqamba Ndlazi (Walter Sisulu University)


It’s all about teamwork

Running the GSN and organising the Indibano is exciting yet challenging. Imagine having all the committee members spread across four different provinces and only meeting once a year to discuss all GSN matters and logistics. All of this is, however, made possible by the hard work and dedication of the committee members. They are ably assisted by Ms Beate Hӧlscher and Ms Eva Mudau, both of SAEON’s National Office, who are always ready to lend a helping hand and for that the GSN is forever grateful.

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Indibano 2014 prize winners, from left: Basanda Nondlazi (WITS), Humbelani Thenga (UKZN), Mendy Shozi (UKZN) and Samuel Motitsoe (Rhodes) (Picture: Victor Modiba)

The GSN further extends its gratitude to the Elwandle Node under the leadership of Dr Tommy Bornman for all their input and advice. To the Indibano 2014 speakers: Dr Albrecht Götz, Dr Ntuthuko Masikane, Dr Victoria Goodall and Prof. Brad Ripley, we thank you for making time available for sharing your knowledge with delegates.

The Indibano would not be possible without funding and support from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and SAEON, and for that we are grateful. We also appreciate the prize donations from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

To all the delegates, you were an amazingly energetic bunch! Keep the learning and networking platform growing!

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