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Turning my conservation dreams into reality

JAN 18, 2024  | WRITTEN By Reshmee Brijlal. photos by Reshmee Brijlal AND Suvarna Parbhoo

 

Above: Bioblitzing with Bheka Memela during the Great Southern Bioblitz 2023.

There is no shortage of words that come to mind when describing my experience working as a Research Assistant for the BotSoc-SANBI Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers Programme (CREW). Try: exhilarating, transforming, overwhelming, stressful, exciting and inspiring.

My name is Reshmee Brijlal and I am working for the CREW programme in KwaZulu-Natal – in a position funded by BotSoc. My main responsibility is to assist with the planning of two annual international citizen science events – the Great Southern Bioblitz 2023 and the City Nature Challenge 2024 – and to create awareness about these events as key conservation activities for South African plant enthusiasts.

Meeting like-minded plant lovers

I had the opportunity to learn about biodiversity stewardship and ‘bioblitzing’ (essentially to undertake a biodiversity census) on three communal sites undergoing the stewardship process, as well as participate in iNaturalist training focusing on stewardship sites. This experience has also allowed me to expand my career network as I met many new and interesting people who share the same love and passion for nature as I do.

Above: Some of Reshmee’s observations during the Great Southern Bioblitz 2023. 

This BotSoc early-career employment opportunity has been my first experience of bioblitz planning and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to participate in the Great Southern Bioblitz (GSB) 2023 event. It was also an overwhelming task to engage with the champions from the 38 participating cities across southern Africa to ensure bioblitzes were planned. However, surveying the sites (that I didn’t know existed in my city) throughout the four days, and then looking at the identifications and the incredible data generated has been rewarding.

It became clear to me that the pre-GSB iNaturalist training we conducted with the communal stewardship community was worth the effort as participants were prepared to survey and upload their observations during the event. I would recommend that every city champion try and invest time in hosting iNaturalist training sessions pre-event.

Getting to know my own city

These are moments that I will carry with me forever as I got to meet and engage with interesting rural communities, learn more about their traditions and cultures and explore some of the most beautiful mountains and valleys within eThekwini’s rural landscapes. This eye-opening experience has helped me realise that as a nature lover, there is so much that I have not yet explored in my own city. It has shown me that I need to start dedicating time to stepping out of my comfort zone and exploring new places around me.

Above: gkwaThoyana, one of the eThekwini rural sites visited during GSB 2023. Photo by Suvarna Parbhoo

An incredible conservation journey to date

Ever since I was a little girl I have found myself drawn to nature, opening my eyes to new perspectives while reminding me of my place and role in the world. And so I always hoped to find a job that helped me to contribute to conservation initiatives whilst ensuring personal growth and development. Working for CREW since October 2023 has turned my hopes into a reality; it has been a journey of challenges, achievements, hard work, dedication and personal growth. Working under the mentorship of the CREW Programme Manager, Suvarna Parbhoo, has helped me to apply myself in new ways and develop my skill set.

Through this Research Assistant post, I have learnt about many facets of plant conservation – from various plant-monitoring initiatives to the national Red List of species. It is remarkable to see how the iNaturalist platform is being used as a biodiversity tool to monitor threatened and invasive species, record new and rediscovered species and a variety of other data collection projects that members of the public contribute to.

 

Above: A species listed as Near Threatened, Brachystelma pulchellum, was discovered in the kwaCele during the GSB last year. Photo by Suvarna Parbhoo

 

I was inspired to be among avid ‘iNatters’ during the GSB and with excitement share their interesting species finds, learn ecological concepts and species’ life cycles and reproductive adaptations. A highlight was when Suvarna found a healthy population of Brachystelma pulchellum (listed as Near Threatened) at a new locality. This discovery was significant not only for its status on the Red List, but also because the site is earmarked for stewardship. In that moment, I knew that it was crucial that I continue to participate in upcoming events.

This time working for the CREW Programme has made a huge impact on my life, so much so that I plan to volunteer to be a part of the work they are doing, even after the contract has ended. I see the importance of my participation in the City Nature Challenge and the Great Southern Bioblitz and the positive impact it has had towards nature conservation, communities and scientists.

That’s why I’ll also be encouraging others to rally the troops and join these events. My hope is that you, too, will be inspired to become a BotSoc member (if you aren’t yet) and contribute to plant-conservation activities, especially these two fun-filled annual citizen science events.

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