School of Life Sciences

Participants at the Durban Research Action Partnership research symposium.

Symposium Reflects on Global Environmental Change Research Programme

The Durban Research Action Partnership (D’RAP) annual research symposium returned to an in-person format at the Buffelsdraai Research Centre for the first time in three years as UKZN students and staff, and representatives of eThekwini Municipality met to hear the results of key research projects that formed part of the D’RAP’s Global Environmental Change (GEC) Research Programme.

The D’RAP was established by eThekwini Municipality and UKZN to bridge the science-action gap and to advance knowledge in biodiversity conservation and management within the context of global environmental change. The partnership aims to generate knowledge to assist managers in the municipality to make biodiversity and conservation decisions and build capacity by supporting student research activities at the University.

At the D’RAP year-end symposium, stakeholders were updated on the partnership, students reported on the progress of their research, and invited guests shared knowledge on climate change and biodiversity in a management context.

With the conclusion of the GEC’s third phase, themed Rivers: Source to Sea, the presentations centred on this theme and related initiatives such as the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities (EPIC) programme being piloted within the D’RAP.

Dr Sean O’Donoghue from eThekwini Municipality welcomed participants and introduced the D’RAP, which has pioneered several projects aimed at positive environmental change, including empowering students with relevant knowledge and producing solution-oriented science to help cities improve sustainability and build resilience to threats such as climate change. Most recently, the D’RAP hosted a webinar examining the disaster management response to the severe flooding in Durban in April 2022.

Two students from the third phase of the GEC presented their results ahead of the submission of their theses. Mr Phakamani Linda Masuku presented on the conservation and restoration of the Palmiet River shrub, Prionium serratum in the river system. Endemic to South Africa, the plant is declining in KwaZulu-Natal due to being harvested for medicinal purposes and the degradation of its wetland habitat.

Ms Sanelisiwe Hlatshwayo spoke about the bioaccumulation of metals in the Umgeni River system, having investigated this and conducted an edibility assessment of Mozambique and redbreast tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus and Coptodon rendalli, respectively).

Ms Zanele Luthuli, an honours student involved in the EPIC programme addressed the challenges of informal settlement upgrading in the Quarry Road West informal settlement – her work is supervised by UKZN’s Professor Cathy Sutherland. PhD candidate Ms Mpume Gumede from eThekwini Municipality spoke about community participation in water resource management projects using a case study of the Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu communities.

The award for best presentation went to Ms Lindelwa Msweli, a PhD student at UKZN conducting research on rock hyrax in urban areas under the supervision of Professor Colleen Downs. Mr Bheka Nxele, Programme Manager: Restoration Ecology at the municipality presented the work done on the Buffelsdraai Community Reforestation Project and highlighted the Treeprenuer programme.

Ms Nokuphila Buthelezi presented on the global biodiversity sampling and monitoring initiative known as LIFEPLAN, developed by the University of Helsinki, which has a data sampling site at the Buffelsdraai Community Reforestation project site, and Ms Monica Ndlovu demonstrated the LIFEPLAN project setup on site.

The D’RAP celebrated its on-going activities despite a lack of research funding.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied