Week 8 started off with the last model drive with our instructors. We explored amazing new places -like the ‘little Grand Canyon’, as it is affectionately known on the reserve- that we had not been to before. The views and sights from this viewpoint were amazing, we even spent our lunch break at Amakhala’s Grand Canyon. On our way back we stopped at a few vantage points to familiarize ourselves with the roads of the reserve before final assessment game drives started. This was quite helpful as it gave us a more 3-dimensional view instead of just looking at the maps.
We finalised one of the components of our practical assessments – this was the beginning of our field observation. We had a bright and early start to Tuesday morning with our mock field assessment. Koen taught us many new things, like the orange tint the bark of a Wild Saffron tree has, with its slightly serrated leaves. As well the amazing ‘bubbling’ call of the Terrestrial Brownbul. Fun was had by Tamara and Sem climbing the mother ship of Ulovane, whilst the rest of us cheered them on from the bottom! The mother ship is the biggest and oldest cabbage tree on the Ulovane reserve property.
On Wednesday however, there was no time to joke around as the real deal had started and it was our final Field Observation exam. We had an early start as it was another very hot morning (39°C by 12 pm) out, and once again I learnt my lesson as to always take water out on our walks. Overall everyone had a great time and were treated to an amazing puff adder sighting towards the end of our walk which was an exciting end to our field observation walk. When we got back there was no time to relax as we had our slide and sound assessment in the afternoon. Everyone did very well and after our exam, we decided to go for a swim. But as nature goes, we were not the first at our ‘swimming pool’ on the reserve – the elephants had beaten us to it!
Finally, a morning to sleep in as we were only writing our Amakhala exam in the afternoon.
Friday morning brought us the start of our final assessment game drives. The excitement was in full swing as we started preparing. We were all up at 6 am to meet the first guests. Of course, as the first assessment drives started, so did our much-needed rain. Despite the rain, all the game drives went ahead and everyone has been enjoying them this far. On Friday evening we had a relaxing dinner with some of our guests and the stories around the dinner table were very interesting and entertaining.
Due to the rain, our practical conservation work was moved indoors and we discussed and learnt about current conservation topics. So on Saturday morning as the students who were being assessed continued with their game drives, the conservation team left in camp had a very interesting and eye-opening discussion in the classroom on rhino poaching and elephant culling. This was most definitely my highlight of the week as I learnt many new things that are happening around me all the time that I was as of now, quite unaware of. This was a very difficult topic for me as I have grown up around these amazing animals and it really hurts me to see what is happening to them. Saturday afternoon continued with more interesting discussions about general conservation work. Everyone at camp took part in the conversation and it was very interesting and helpful listening to everyone’s opinions.
I learnt a new species of spider the interesting way – by nearly eating it when I picked a Spekboom leaf to eat!! It is a beautiful Kite Spider.
“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.” ―
Where can we start?
When we arrived at Ulovane Campus, they said pack your bag in the van, we are going to the beach house!
This is the first time the Marine’s are staying at the beach for the whole duration of the course; naturally, this fact alone had us even more excited about the upcoming 4 weeks of the course.
When we arrived in the afternoon at our cool beach house, it was just in time for the golden hour of the day and with the jaw-dropping views that greeted us from our spot, we knew it was going to be an awesome time! We have decided the house we are staying in remarkably resembles a Harry Potter House with a ‘Perkamentus’ room on top where Justin and Keenan stay; back in the garden is Hagrid’s’ house where Diogo is staying, and don’t let us forget the infamous ‘bed under the stairs’!!
On Monday morning we went as a group out on to the shores to explore with Shani, where we dove straight into our studies – literally! Something really amazing we came across was a huge Jellyfish with weird pink stuff coming out of it, which we are still trying to figure out what it was. We continued to pick up shell and seaweed samples for identification on our beach walks, with the beach coming more and more alive as the hours wore on with the amount of detail we began to pick up on. It appears the beach and rocky shore ecosystems consist of many different habitats, each with its own unique and well-adapted community of species.
Whilst exploring the different zones of the rocky shores on one of our morning walks, we had a beautiful sighting of a Common Octopus. He came out and showed off his talented arms and then went back to his little hole. It is quite unique to find their little territorial hideouts by looking for abandoned mussel shells that they discard right outside their doors. Two amazing facts of the week – the male octopus’ sexual organs are on his foot, and sea urchins have an adhesive ‘glue’ that is unique to them. It is the ‘stuff’ that allows them to move along the sea floor and attach on to rocks while they feed. Amazing!!!
Early in the week while we were doing a class on the coastal marine environment back at the beach house, a large pod of dolphins came passed us and played in the waves. Diogo thought it was a good idea to put on his flippers to chase after them, as class was understandably temporarily disrupted with this beautiful sighting. THAT’S NOT ALL!
On Thursday morning we went back to Port Alfred to go and explore a different type of beach environment for our studies, and just minutes into the walk, Shani came across the near threatened Eastern Cape Dwarf Chameleon, also known as the Southern Dwarf Chameleon. The amazing thing about this find is that we found our namesake because the isiXhosa word for Chameleon is Ulovane!
What a find it was, we all got so excited to see this amazing little creature.
All in all, we really had a good start to our first week where we are continuously learning about the coastal environment and adapting ourselves with new skills to use in order to identify the surroundings we are in. Apart from the theoretical and practical studies, we had some good times together as a group. Whatever we were busy with, we had a laugh! I am so thankful to be sharing my time with these incredible human beings. Could not have asked for a better week.
Thank you Shani for sharing your knowledge and passion of the deep seas with us!
- Alfred and Bart
Far and away, the greatest threat to the ocean, and thus to ourselves, is ignorance. But we can do something about that. Sylvia Earle