A blog by Jiba Magwaza, a Junior Field Officer from Endangered Wildlife Trust
The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has been granted funds by ICLEI (through the LAB: Wetlands SA project) to run a four-month project in iLembe District Municipality. The project is titled “Assessment of coastal wetland ecology and alien vegetation risk in iLembe District Municipality through local community citizen science”.
The project began in December 2017 and entails training local people from rural communities within iLembe District Municipality to survey and monitor several wetlands and their associated streams, documenting the fauna and flora in these systems. Whilst the project is in part about learning about the value of the environment and all the benefits the natural environment provides people with, the project is also about creating job opportunities and a sense of empowerment from the skills developed through becoming involved in a local environmental project. Working with the environment also fosters a sense of environmental ownership which has been proved to be critical when it comes to environmental conservation.
To date, fourteen ‘bio-officers’ have been trained to to undertake the project. The skills developed through the EWT project can be used in other environmentally-related projects and so have the potential to improve individuals’ chances of getting similar work in the future or assist them with starting their own similar initiatives. The fourteen individuals are currently working in three separate sites namely, Groutville, KwaDukuza and Nyoni, all located within iLembe District Municipality.
Prior to the commencement of the project, the majority of these newly trained individuals were very anti-environmental conservation. Since working on the project, these individuals are slowly coming around and changing their attitude towards the environment. In some cases, they are even becoming fond of the various species found within wetland ecosystems! Teams are learning about different species of plants, trees and animals which makes this learning opportunity more than just a job but an opportunity for knowledge development and self-empowerment.
Despite the short duration of the project (2 months to date), many ‘bio-officers’ have expressed an interest in continuing working with wetlands, beyond the end of the project. Wetlands, grasslands and rivers within South Africa are critically threatened and this will not change if the general public in our communities are not involved and encouraged to take care of their environment. The EWT project is seen as being a very important first step to involving local communities into becoming champions of their water systems, thereby promoting the sustainability of our natural resources for the benefit and joy of future generations.