This very relevant and welcome announcement of Environment Minister Edna Molewa reached me this morning. This could just be the event that brings about the turning of the cycle of despair. Congratulation Minister Molewa:


The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa today introduced the Committee of Inquiry tasked with investigating the feasibility of a trade in rhino horn.

On 22 January 2014 Minister Molewa announced that once pre-screening and vetting by the State Security Agency (SSA) was completed, that the names would be publically released.

Even while all the information leads to a cynical view of the future for rhino in Southern Africa, this information on news24 gives one some hope at last. At least the routes to the north and Europe should be more difficult to use. The informal news from the battlefront is not encouraging. In both Mozambique and South Africa there seems to be little political will to do anything.

Let us all hope we have reached the bottom of the cycle.

I have been fortunate on a few occasions to share many moments in the natural environment with Sir Richard Branson. It all started while I was sitting, at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg, waiting for a flight to Mozambique to go to the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. I received a phone call from him explaining his interest in the Peace Park vision of the late Dr Anton Rupert and that he would like support the work that we were doing at the time.

This call led to a visit to his lodge at ULUSABA, from where we went on a 5 day helicopter flight to the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park and the MAPUTO Elephant Reserve and Transfrontier Park. What a wonderful and great person to spend time with. He was energetic, full of wisdom and knowledge and I enjoyed spending time flying across the incredible scenery of southern Mozambique, while flooding his senses with an endless stream of comments on what we where looking at from the air.


On their 100-year celebration of making maps NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC published an interesting article, “The science and art of making maps”. It opened up my own thoughts on maps as I have often found that many people look at a map as a flat, fixed time arrangement of colours with no scale or orientation.

I have used maps from my early days of exploring rivers, through to the understanding of new landscapes and when depicting of land use proposals and ecosystem services. Often one would read scientific reports that does not include maps and contains only a descriptive text. For a single map to fulfil all these functions is a science, but the presentation is also an art when the mapped information is depicted in a map composition. A map is worth a thousand words.

One of the most interesting projects the Transboundary Consulting Africa was involved with was the development of a decision support model for the Department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa. The aim was to develop a GIS based database of public domain information dealing with ecosystem services.

Today I want to place the spotlight on a fascinating article that I came across on BBC. My reason for blogging this is to illustrate the many interesting geological events that lead to the environment of today. I have always had an interest in geology and landscape development over the ages and the fact that the events of millions of years ago still influence the environment of today.

Click here to go to the full artcile

Of real interest is the fact that the geology around Barberton contains layers illustrating the first development of algae in swamps and lava flows of 3.4 billion of years ago. This is the oldest evidence for life on earth. Especially interesting are the discussions around global warming and whether the activities of humans can destroy the world.

From the above article it is clear that the 6 extinctions of life the world has known had impacts resulting mainly from impact craters and volcanic eruptions. It also illustrates periods of global cooling rather than warming. The great number of ice ages of the past had enormous impacts on the life of that time.

Where are we going today and are we going to become the 26th biggest and last turning point?

Recent news on the floods in Mozambique and Malawi due to an exceptional low-pressure system over central Mozambique. The resultant floods were captured by satellites from NASA and made available for flood management actions. I place the link to these images as well alternative sites for further study. The MODIS Rapid Response Team has made these images available. They are available on a global scale and have supported flood relief efforts globally.

I have found these sites fascinating to visit during the various flood events happening continuously globally. It is one of the best opportunities to study the natural processes so influential in landscape development.

Please click here to download the larger version of the map composition (5mb)

Illustration of the application of Ecosystem Services as a management tool through the use of GIS

The Vhembe biosphere reserved is a proclaimed Biosphere Reserve of UNESCO. It is a perfect example of an island mountain, called the Soutpansberg, with high natural resources, surrounded by regions of lower resources. Millions of people in the surrounding regions are dependant on these ecosystem services (ESS).

It is also a perfect example of the environmental impact of the previous policy of apartheid. The eastern region of the mountain formed a part of the homeland of the Venda people and the western region fell under the control of the Transvaal administration, a part of South Africa. The western region is a sparsely populated, large farmland and the eastern region received people from all over South Africa, all relocated as a part of the former homeland policy. Although the Venda homeland was fortunate to share in the ESS from the mountain island, it became overpopulated over time and the environmental impact of agriculture, urbanization and forestry is very visible today.

Planetary Boundaries

The discussion about the impact on the global ecological situation is based on the impact of humans on this earth. When looking at the map of the footprint on Africa the extent of this is very clear. Most of the high land use densities are linked to infrastructure and transport corridors.

This is an enormous subject and as a form of land use, conservation is becoming more and more relevant. As a background to the more detailed discussions of conservation areas and specific projects I wish to discuss the theory behind the concept of protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services as the motivation for the idea of conservation.

There are a growing number of projects and organizations focussing on the global situation, as well as the role and function of the global ecosystem and the importance of the earth as a home for humans.

“SANCTUARY Exploring the world’s protected areas from space”

We have been remote sensing for many years through the use of our eyes. That was the first activity during my river expeditions. At first you just look around and appreciate the aesthetics of the unfolding landscape as you paddle down the river. As you become more experienced, the images begin to obtain meaning and they transfer knowledge on which one begins to react.

Due to this transferring of knowledge through one’s eyes, I have become enthralled by the images obtained during flights to various parts of the world. Just ensure  that you are next to a window on the plane and orientated away from the sun.

A unique river forming the boundary between Angola and Namibia. 

What follows is a brief description of a truly influential adventure in my life. The exposure to the wild landscapes formed the basis for the later application of a principled approach to conservation.

This proved to be one of the most challenging of river explorations undertaken by myself in Africa. In-depth research to understand the geography of this catchment basin, illustrated to me the importance of geology and geomorphology in understanding catchments. It also illustrated, for the first time, the importance of ancient landscapes all the way through continental drift and the breaking up of Gondwanaland. The effect of this is visable in the formation of landscapes, drainage systems and even ecosystems.

A brief discussion on some of the conservation related websites used on a daily basis to understand this changing world and the human impact on our natural resources.

One of the greatest advances in the study of our global environment, was the advent of the satellite with its various observation techniques. Data from satellites developed by NASA (US government), dealing with space exploration became available in the public domain. Humanity was finally able to collate an overview of the state of the global environment, through a large variety of sensors developed for each satellite and for each focus area. A review of these results has become one of my favourite activities and each morning I observe them with excitement. In this section I will highlight the most informative sites accompanied by my comments on specific events occurring daily around the globe.

An illustration of a series of projects in Africa covering many divergent challenges for conservation.

Through my training and education, some of the most interesting research and planning occurred within national parks. Conservation covers many types of protected areas. A large number of studies and planning projects that I was involved in has contributed to my approach. These projects have focused on the park, regional, provincial, national and international scale.

Bringing about an understanding of GIS as a tool in conservation planning and management

In 1972 I was fortunate enough  to be allocated a bursary for studies in the USA. My first introduction to GIS was during these studies at University of Pennsylvania, with the Professor Ian McHarg. At that time, GIS was elementary and restricted to a grid system of data management with the printing of maps, limited to shades of grey through over printing by typewriters.

On my return to South Africa, I was appointed Head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pretoria, where I developed our own GIS system in Fortran. Soon the development of professional software and programs, such as ArcInfo, replaced my basic GIS program.

Introduction of the theoretical basis for conservation and ecosystem services as a support model for decisionmaking.

Conservation was originally seen as an act of protection for scenic beauty and tourism values. The culling of excess numbers of wildlife was and is still frowned upon. Management was seen as a necessary evil and protected areas became more and more isolated in the changing world. Pressure from immediate surroundings increased the importance of management. Management goals and objectives had to be adjusted when conservation changed from the protection of natural resources to a form of land use that benefits surrounding human populations. Various projects based on conservation and ecosystems services (ESS) as an indispensable element will be illustrated.

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