Post by Emma Oliver with SImon Tamblyn
The sharp eyes of young Adam Kroukamp miraculously spotted a beige -coloured baby Cape Dwarf Chameleon, about 2.5cm in size, creeping along a dried grass stem. Adam was the youngest in our group of 16 enthusiasts who gathered on Saturday, November 25th on the dunes on the southern side of Princess Vlei in Retreat, Cape Town, South Africa, as part of the Great Southern Bioblitz (GSB). Simon Tamblyn - Princess Vlei Forum’s GSB volunteer organiser - explained the purpose of the GSB, a species surveying competition on the iNaturalist app, taking place over four days across the Southern hemisphere.
The competitive element is to see which place in the world can record the highest number of species, within the set time frame. Competitors photograph any wild organism they meet and upload these as “observations” onto the iNaturalist App. Pets and garden plant observations are marked as casual and automatically excluded. Wild observations must then reach a ‘research’ grade which can be accomplished by first reaching species level (poorly taken photographs will remain at family taxonomy level) and then have another user on the platform agree with the species identification. All observations are geo-tagged (they have longitude and latitude values attached to them), so are captured into a city-based and country-based counting system.
It is citizen science at its best. The results give data to ecologists and scientists across the globe and locally, where they can study whichever particular organism is their concern.
The iNaturalist observations give invaluable data to the Princess Vlei Forum to guide decisions as to what our way forward is in planning either management of the site, restoration or environmental education work. For the GSB morning, our target area was the most ‘intact’ piece of Cape Flats Dune Strandveld within the 109 hectares of the Greater Princess Vlei Conservation Area and provincial heritage site. To an outsider this dune vegetation in urban Retreat might look unimpressive, scrubby and uninviting. There is, unfortunately, evidence of frequent dumping and of illegal sandmining; and street litter blows onto the dunes with every strong wind. Undeterred, however, our Bioblitz group had an excellent morning. Several members of the group were from the Kirstenbosch Branch of the Botanical Society of South Africa, and the Forum is always very grateful for their continued collaboration and expertise.
Our findings revealed the following: five observations of species classified as ‘threatened’. These were Dasispermum perennans (Peninsula Sandcelery), Asparagus lignosus (Fire Aasparagus), Psoralea repens (Creeping Fountain Bush), Lessertia argentea (Silver Bubblepod) and Bradypodion pumilum (Cape Dwarf Chameleon). In addition, lots of pollinators including two long proboscid beeflies, geranium bronze butterflies and varied bugs and beetles. Bird sightings were not photographed but included the orange breasted sunbird in the dunes and whiskered terns dipping and diving over the Princess Vlei reed beds. For the full list of our iNaturalist observations in the Greater Princess Vlei area go to https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/greater-princess-vlei-conservation-area?tab=stats
Here you will find photographs of the 345 different species – plants, insects, birds and animals, snakes, leopard toads, chameleons etc that have been seen and identified.
Our GSB morning outing confirmed and underlined the critical importance of the citizen science initiatives and communities found on iNaturalist. We know that we are living in a time of major loss of species and extinction. Especially in Cape Town, where our province is a floral biodiversity hotspot, but also an extinction hotspot with nearly two thousand of the, roughly, nine thousand six hundred plant species found in our province being threatened with extinction. The iNaturalist events give the record of what still exists and what is no longer commonly seen.
At the recent Community Conservation Conference hosted by the Princess Vlei Forum, Dr Don Kirkwood, curator of Stellenbosch University Botanical Gardens urged us all to work together and to work small; on small areas of land, in order to be effective over bigger landscapes. From our morning together we ‘discovered’ or observed two plants that we didn’t know before were present on the dunes. Sightings of the Cape Dwarf Chameleon raised the question as to whether we need to do more to protect the habitat of this one of many endangered species? The answer is yes. There is always more in the journey of humans with nature.
And in the GSB competition? Cape Town did very well. Coming in first as the most proactive site in South Africa for iNaturalist.
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.