Desert research leads to master’s degree
âOn my solo fishing expeditions, there were always black-backed jackals nearby, indifferent to my presence, watching and patiently waiting for me to finish my dissections for them. [could] collect the leftover fish. Regular sightings of the peculiar brown hyena were a constant reminder of the wilderness of the coast. This experience taught me to take the time to reflect and appreciate the little moments in life.
This is how University of Cape Town (UCT) graduate Liezl Maritz describes the experience of completing her Masters in Biological Sciences while working in isolation on the southern coast of the Namib Desert.
After graduating in Environmental Management in 2012, then obtaining a BSc Honors in Geography – both from UNISA – Liezl was well equipped to identify and understand spatio-temporal structuring and the relationship between natural phenomena and anthropogenic.
In 2017, she put these skills to good use when she started her master’s degree. His research took place in the Southern Coastal Mines license area – one of the largest license areas held by Namdeb Diamond Corporation, where Liezl has been employed since 2012. The area is a high security area surrounded by double fencing. where public access is strictly controlled.
It undertook the first (and only) investigation into the ecological sustainability of marine wetland ponds created by diamond mining activities.
âThe mining activity that takes place there is gradually pushing the coastline towards the sea. This allows mining to take place in what was previously a surfing area, sheltered from the ‘dikes’ that hold the sea. remote sea. In the process, several large marine ponds – some up to 1 km long – are created along the coast, which are clearly visible on Google Earth, âshe said.
“Liezl aimed to assess whether these ponds could complement the sparse estuarine and lagoon systems that exist on the parched coast.”
Before mining, the coast was covered with a natural system of dune hammocks, which has now disappeared and been replaced by artificial sea ponds. Liezl aimed to assess whether these ponds could complement the sparse estuarine and lagoon systems that exist on the parched coast.
During her study, which took place over an area about 75 km long and with 150 ponds in total, she assessed the age, physical properties, amount of vegetation in the salt marshes, species of birds and fish enjoying each pond. This enabled him to determine whether ponds fulfill an important ecological role that deserves to be preserved.
In the end, the final verdict was positive. His research revealed that ponds actually support and attract biodiversity.
“In short, they allow the development of salt marshes that would otherwise be absent, support populations of a limited number of marine fish species, and have remarkably rich waterbird fauna.”
The results of his research show that the rich waterbird fauna found in the region is comparable to that of other regions classified as Important Birds and Biodiversity Areas. Thirty-six different bird species were recorded during his study, and the ponds provide attractive alternative habitat for waterfowl to nest, feed and roost.
With these results, as well as her ongoing research, Liezl is confident that it will make a valuable contribution to biodiversity conservation efforts in the southern coastal mining region and Namibia as a whole, as well as create opportunities for the fields of restoration, ecology and management of the mining environment to expand and develop.
“There are a limited number of studies being conducted in the region due to access restrictions, which makes the data I collect very valuable,” she added.
However, access control was not the only challenge she faced upon graduation. She also had a full-time job and had to constantly balance her time, energy and attention. She overcame this obstacle by strictly managing her daily schedule and weekly deliverables. Giving time to rest and recover has also been a big factor in her success.
âMy conservation project is the continuation of my master’s project with an emphasis on several species of birds. “
With only a two-way radio to communicate with security in the study area and having remote contact with his supervisors, Liezl admitted that despite all the rough times, there were also many rewarding moments, which is “typical. when spending time in nature “.
She also recently completed a Conservation Leadership Training Program administered by Fauna and Flora International and funded by De Beers. In the future, she plans to continue working on her conservation project for this program.
âMy conservation project is a continuation of my masters project focusing on several species of birds and exploring how birds benefit from the existence of mining ponds,â she explained.
High and far
For Liezl, it has always been a pleasure to share his experiences with his supervisors, Professor George Branch and Dr Deena Pillay, who have visited and share the same passion for this unique field.
Regarding the motivating forces during her studies, she credits Professor Branch with the essential role played in her success.
âHe is considered a world leader in marine science and sets an admirable example of what can be achieved through hard work and dedication. His advice, support and kindness is what motivated me.
It is obvious that for Liezl, this diploma is more than a simple distinction. Instead, it’s a symbol of the lasting positive impact and legacy she leaves in her field and beyond.