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ISEC Conference

Ms Lisa Nicvert, PhD students from LBBE Lyon and IRL REHABS presented on behalf of Dr Lain Pardo (Nelson Mandela University) and the SnapShot Safari team "On the need of big data and capacity building for conservation: the Snapshot Safari South Africa experience.

Nelson Mandela University has entered into a research partnership with French National Research Centre (CNRS) and the University of Lyon 1, which will see the institution being home to a first of its kind collaborative research and training hub.

Great excitement is mounting, and preparations are underway to launch the International Research Laboratory (IRL REHABS) at the Sustainability Research Unit (SRU) on the 6th of December 2019.  

Prof Jeanne Nel, Research Associate with the Sustainability Research Unit recently co-authored a paper on an international study titled “Key knowledge gaps to achieve global sustainability goals” which was published in Nature Sustainability on the 28th of October 2019. This important study systematically synthesized knowledge gaps from recent assessments of four regions of the globe and three key themes by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. 

While at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis as a guest research assistant, Mr. Masunungure will be collaborating with Prof. Yuri Ermoliev (Advanced Systems Analysis program, ASA) and Dr. Tatiana Ermolieva (Ecosystems Services and Management program, ESM), where he will seek to develop a stochastic and dynamic model to inform the choices of appropriate robust management options of woody IAPs.

On the 27th of June 2019 representatives from the SRU; Clemson University in South Carolina, USA; South African National Parks (SANParks), scientific services; The Knysna Basin Project and the Independent Institution of Education Monash South Africa (IIE MSA) came together to learn about each other and to find synergies in their work.

On Monday the 13th of May the Sustainability Research Unit (SRU) hosted a training workshop on sustainable fisheries and certification presented by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

A workshop was facilitated by Prof Robert Fincham and Dr Karin Badenhorst on 2 April 2019 at SRU, to provide feedback on the Predation Management Workshop co-hosted by the Predation Management Forum at the Centre for African Conservation and Ecology (ACE) at the NMU Campus in Port Elizabeth on Thursday 21 February 2019.

The Sustainability Research Unit (SRU) is pleased to welcome Dr Karin Badenhorst and Dr Jaco Barendse who have joined the SRU team.

Natural resource managers are often ill equipped to cope with the complexity of conflicts in and around protected areas under their care. The Sustainability Research Unit at the Nelson Mandela University responded to this need and hosted a training workshop on 29 & 30 November 2018.

Following the GRIM event was the first Spring School on Social-Ecological Systems Research held on the George Campus and in Wilderness from the 5th to the 10th of October 2018. 

The Director of the Sustainability Research Unit spoke to two audiences of academics and public members as part of the National Science Week celebrations at the Nelson Mandela University Science Faculty Symposium on the 18th of July in Port Elizabeth, and as part of the George Campus Executive Public Lecture Series on the 6th of September 2018.  

Western Cape Biosphere Reserve Workshop: A landmark event hosted by the Sustainability Research Unit. A diversity of researchers and practitioners working on and in South Africa’s Western Cape biosphere reserves were brought together in a landmark event hosted by the Sustainability Research Unit at the Nelson Mandela University, George Campus on the 31st of August 2018. 

SRU 2018 Research Associate Symposium brings minds together to contribute to a research agenda for the unit going forward. A part of the Sustainability Research Unit’s (SRU) vision is to be an energizing open space for inter, multi and trans-disciplinary thinking and learning, where talented people can come together to think, learn and co-create inspiring ideas. The SRU Research Associate Symposium is one such space. 

PhD student, Current Masunungure (number 4, front row from right-left)  was part of the 24 doctoral students (Cohort 3) who attended the one month-long (25 June to 21 July 2018) capacity development programme hosted by Stellenbosch University. 

The June 2018 Southern Cape Landowners initiative (SCLI) Environmental Seminar: A successful commemoration of the June 2017 fires and a SRU view of future actions.

The 16th annual Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) Commemorative Seminar revisited the devastation caused by the June 2017 fires. In so doing, it reflected on the remarkable ways in which the affected communities stood together in the wake of the fires, assessed the environmental restoration work undertaken and raised the need to confront the challenges of avoiding such environmental tragedies in the future. 


Dr. Bianca Currie, the director of the SRU and recently appointed director (research portfolio) on the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve board, together with Dr. Lisa Heider, a recent doctoral graduate of the SRU presented at the Gouritz Cluster Forum meeting at the Rooiberg Lodge near van Wyksdorp on the 15th May 2018. 

The Sustainability Research Unit led a session at the recent Future Earth Seedbeds of Transformation conference focused on the role of science with society and the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa.

The SRU saw two of its PhD students walk across the stage at the Nelson Mandela University graduation ceremony on Friday the 13th of April 2018.  

Bianca Currie, Zanele Hartmann and Ellie Pedarros, representing the Sustainability Research Unit, attended the Community Voices: engaging with people in conversation workshop hosted by Prof Ronel Nel at the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research in Port Elizabeth on the 10th and 11th of April 2018.  The participatory workshop aimed to explore the potential for improving resource management and conservation interventions by integrating the human dimension.

SRU PhD Student Current Masunungure was recently awarded the Systems Analysis Centre (SASAC) Doctoral Scholarships in 2018 and selected as one of the 10 scholarships (out of 30) which includes support under the British Council’s Newton Funded PhD programme.

SRU Head Christo Fabricius, together with Tiaan Pool and Tineke Kraaij of SNRM, provided a sustainability science perspective through three well-received presentations at a SCLI meeting in Brenton on Sea near Knysna, where the focus was on post-fire recovery of Knysna and other affected places in the Garden Route.

SRU members Christo Fabricius, Chloé Guerbois, Lisa Heider, Jeanne Nel and Dirk Roux participated in the Resilience2017 Conference in Stockholm, where Dirk presented a paper in a well-received session  “Protected Areas, Resilience and Sustainability”, Chloé spoke about bird stories about environmental change, Lisa gave a paper about stewardship and sustainability in the Garden Route, and Christo coordinated and chaired a session on ‘Effective adaptation to global change in coastlines’, with 11 presentations and a synthesis on the findings of their Belmont Forum project called MAGIC (Multi-scale Adaptations to Global change In Coastlines). Christo and Dirk’s sessions are culminating in two special issues in international journals (Ecosystem Services, and Regional Environmental Change).

A facilitation team from Nelson Mandela University, led by Bianca Currie the Deputy Head of Sustainability Research Unit (SRU) together with four post graduate students, Samantha McCulloch, Current Masunungure, Sibonokuhle Nontongana and Lisa Heider assisted the Southern Cape Landowner Initiative (SCLI) to co-develop with participants a strategy for the collaborative management of alien invasive plant species in the Southern Cape. 
The SRU’s second Research Associates Symposium took place at the Nelson Mandela University George Campus on 16 May 2017. This year’s Symposium was attended by a congregation of enthusiastic undergraduate and postgraduate students, academics, civil society representatives and conservationists.
City sprawl, diminishing habitat and increasing baboon numbers have resulted in increasing urban human-baboon conflict, widely publicised issue in the City of Cape Town and surrounds.
The rehabilitation of mine land after a mine has closed can take several years to achieve and cost millions of rands; however, according to a study undertaken by researchers at the University of Pretoria (UP), the application of dung beetles and dung can go a long way towards helping nutrient- deprived soil regain its former glory.

On the 22nd and 23rd of March 2017, SRU staff and students went on a field trip from George to Nature’s Valley. The trip started with a guided Knysna township tour with tour guide Mawande (Wandu Tours). Insights on the history of the town and the rapid growth it is experiencing and, particularly in the last 20 years were evident. Tatenda Mapeto

On the 4th of November 2016, Bianca Currie with the assistance of Samantha Mc Culloch and Current Masunungure facilitated a visioning process with over 50 stakeholders from the Breede-Gouritz Catchment Management Area.

GEORGE NEWS - The sustainability research unit at Nelson Mandela University (George campus) is doing research. in Wilderness on people's sense of place read more
Congratulations to Adjunct Professor Dirk Roux, one of SRU’s stalwart Research Associates, who was again awarded a highly respectable B3 rating by the National Research Foundation for the period 2017-2020.
My project aims to explore the role of different motivations in ecosystem stewardship and their influence on the social and ecological requirements that build the resilience of a biodiversity common.
I have been undertaking fieldwork in Sedgefield for my PhD in Geography, University of Exeter, UK, for the past three months with support from the Sustainability Research Unit, Nelson Mandela University, George campus.
Padda Preschool in Wilderness Heights have been educating children from ages 3 to 6 years since 2006.  Every year the school takes the children on an educational field trip in order to show them things in real life which they have learned about in school. 

SRU facilitating capacity development for Breede-Gouritz Catchment Management Agency.

During August 2016, the Sustainability Research Unit (SRU) from the Nelson Mandela University held the first of a series of capacity development workshops for the Breede-Gouritz Catchment Management Agency (BGCMA).

Thea Buckle recently received the Nelson Mandela University award for the best Master’s student in the social sciences for her dissertation “Media and communication influences on farmer’s views of water conservation in the Garden Route”.

Our international research collaboration MAGIC (Multi-scale adaptations to global change and their impacts on vulnerability in coastal areas) held its annual meeting 4th-8th of May 2016.

On the 7th of April 2016 the Sustainability Research Unit hosted a Research Associates Symposium at the George Campus of Nelson Mandela University.

On the 7th of November, 2015, a public dialogue between members of the public and environmental professionals from various institution was held at the Wilderness Hotel.

Dr Jackie Dabrowski was invited to present at Nelson Mandela University, George campus on the 9th of March 2016. She presented her research on “Pansteatitis in tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus): untangling the links to fish diet, thyroid status, water quality and drought”.

MAGIC is a research collaboration aimed at understanding ‘Multi-scale adaptations to global change and their impacts on vulnerability in coastal areas’, on the basis of three case studies: Languedoc-Roussillon in France, Cornwall in the UK, and the Garden Route coast in South Africa.

On the 4th of November 2015, SRU members Janine Adams and Bianca Currie attended the 2nd Nelson Mandela University Engagement Colloquium in Port Elizabeth.

The SRU would like to welcome Peter Novellie and Herve Fritz to our dynamic research team!

On the 16th of February 2016, the SRU hosted a follow up focus group with professionals from SANParks, MTO, Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) and SRU/NMMU research associates.

Absorptive capacity for responding to environmental change: an assessment of three public-sector agencies

Motivation in ecosystem stewardship and the resilience of biodiversity commons: The case of South Africa’s Garden Route

The Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society conference, held between the 3rd and 5th November 2015, gathered scientists from various disciplines, from within and beyond the PECS network, who shared cutting-edge research insights on social-ecological dynamics in the Anthropocene.

Prof Christo Fabricius visited Lesotho in January 2016 to advise the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to promote agricultural resilience.

The management of Chacma baboons and humans in a peri-urban environment: A case study from Nelson Mandela University’s George Campus.

Conflicts between humans and baboons (Papio ursinus) have become a significant management challenge on Nelson Mandela University George Campus, which is located in peri-urban George in the Garden Route, of the Western Cape of South Africa.

Just before the first ever Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) conference this past November in Stellenbosch, SAPECS organised a pre-conference learning event for early career social-ecological systems researchers at STIAS; coordinated and facilitated by Christo Fabricius from Nelson Mandela University.

GEORGE NEWS - "The Wilderness community reacted well when called upon to clear public areas of invasive alien plants - and on their day off as well," said Cobus Meiring, of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI).

On behalf of the Kaaimans-to-Touw (KTT) Eco-Restoration Forum, we would like to thank everyone who attended the community hacking day on the 1st of October 2015.

There was a great turnout and the area looks incredible.

With over 90 people in attendance, the Hacking Day was a huge success and a lot of fun!


Kaaimans-to-Touw Eco-Restoration Forum would like to invite you to a community project where teams of volunteers will work together to clear invasive plants.
Supervision, information about invasive species and refreshments will be provided on the day.

Building bridges in the war on weeds.


The SRU represented at the Teaching, Research and Engagement Excelence Awards, being awarded the Nelson Mandela University Engagement Excellence Award.

Congratulations to Prof Janine Adams from the Botany Department who was recently awarded a Silver medal at the Southern African Society of Aquatic Scientists (SASAqS) conference held in the Drakensberg.

On the 22nd of June, Prof. Richard Kingsford entertained the students of NMMU George Campuis with an impassioned lecture about his journey to restore and protect rivers in Australia.

Professor Richard Kingsford is the Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences of the University of NSW. He has focussed his research over about the last 20 years on the waterbirds, wetlands and rivers of arid Australia, which cover about 70% of the continent. He has identified the significant impacts of water resource development on the rivers and wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin and other parts of the world and he has contributed to policy development and environmental flow management. He is the current President of the Society for Conservation Biology in Oceania.

SRU 5 Year-Review

The SRU team received a favourable report of their 5-year review by a panel consisting of NMMU and external environmental leaders.

On the 7th of July 2015, the Sustainability Research Unit (SRU) won the NMMU Engagement Excellence Award (Team Award) for 2015.

Participants actively engaged in the dialogueOn 5th May 2015, staff and students from NMMU and CSIR facilitated the Wilderness Rivers Sustainability Dialogue at Hoekwill Primary School. The workshop was entitled ‘Our rivers Our future,’ and was funded by the Water Research Commision. In total, 26 stakeholders attended including representatives from local conservancies, SANParks, local business owners, George Municipality and local farmers.

Organized by Professor Dirk Roux (NMMU/SANParks), our second meeting for the ‘Virtual SES Lab’ took place on the 8th of April 2015 at Loerie’s Nest, Ebb and Flow Restcamp in Wilderness.

“Humans have changed the way the world works. Now they have to change the way they think about it too.” – The Economist


Conversations for improved public participation was a presentation and mini workshop facilitated by Bianca Currie on the 28 March 2015 at the Knysna Municipality Ward Committee Summit.

The many challenges associated with mislabelling of seafood have been highlighted in a paper published in the January 2015 edition of Marine Policy.

During October 2014 the Sustainability Research Unit at NMMU’s George Campus had the pleasure of hosting world renowned sustainability scientist, Prof Carl Folke, Founder and Science Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and the Director of the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. 

The title of NMMU Adjunct Professor in the Science Faculty was recently conferred on Dr Dirk Roux, a stalwart Research Associate in the university’s Sustainability Research Unit and Senior Scientist in South African National Parks (SANParks).   


Adaptive Stewardship of Social-Ecological Systems in the Garden Route, South Africa

NMMU’s Sustainability Research Unit ( is recruiting Master’s and Doctoral students, as well as Research fellows, who are passionate about collaborative action research, complexity and adaptive co-management of social-ecological systems. 

The SRU recently welcomed Dr Jeanne Nel as a Research Associate. Her appointment was confirmed by the NMMU last week. We are very pleased to have this acomplished researcher on board and look forward to working with Jeanne. Jeanne's professional biography can be read below.

Bianca Currie presented the SRU Quarterly updates at the recent NMMU George Campus Quarterly MANCO meeting. The update highlights the recent activites the SRU members have been involved in

Download the pdf here

- Andrew Jackson

I was recently given the opportunity to present the preliminary results of my research at the second annual conference of the Land Rehabilitation Society of Southern Africa (LaRSSA). As it was my first time presenting at a conference I was both excited and nervous. Fortunately I had the support of the staff and students of the SRU and NMMU’s School of Natural Resource Management who all gave excellent feedback and helped to improve my presentation during an informal presentation session.


The 3rd of October saw members of the NMMU SRU visiting the Khayalethu Nature Reserve, initiated and run by the House of Judah, for a field trip and community engagement session. Amongst the activities was a walk through the Nature Reserve, where Invasive Plant Management was highlighted as the primary concern, as well as securing funds for clearing implementation. 


The Fynbos Forum is an annual scientific gathering of leading Western Cape researchers and practitioners who work in the Cape Floristic Region, also known as Fynbos. The 2014 Forum, the 36th of its kind, took place from 4-7 August in Knysna. It was attended by close to 200 talented researchers and practitioners doing excellent work on social, ecological and species conservation.

Being in our ‘back yard’, NMMU staff and Research Associates were well represented. NMMU George Campus academics delivered four of the six invited plenary keynote addresses and two NMMU students delivered papers, one of which won the prize for best over-all presentation, and one which was runner-up in the student presentations category.


South African legislation promotes public participation in development planning (National Environmental Management Act) and water management (National Water Act). The public participation aspect of modern-day planning is particularly challenging and fraught with pitfalls.  Conversations for improved public participation was an opportunity for dialogue around the challenges, with the aim of collaboratively brainstorming solutions for improved public participation. 


The first social- ecological winter school, organized by NMMU's Sustainability Research Unit in collaboration with Southern African Program on Ecosystem Change and Society (SAPECS), saw twenty-one students from southern Africa gathering at NMMU George Campus from the 30th  of June to the 4th of July 2014. Aimed primarily at PhD students in their first year of study, the main goal was capacity development of new scholars in social- ecological systems through innovative use of facilitated dialogues and adopting integrated coaching principles. A systems perspective was also given through a field trip in and around the Garden Route National Park where practitioners working at the interface of ecosystems and societies highlighted the practical challenges they face.

Five members of the SRU formed part of the over 900 participants who attended the Resilience 2014 conference held in Montpellier, France from 4 – 8 May 2014.  The third conference sponsored by the Resilience Alliance, with the theme “Resilience and Development: Mobilizing for Transformation” explored the links between resilience thinking and development with the aim of identifying more equitable and sustainable development pathways in light of global change issues.

A number of SRU members (Christo Fabricuis, Dirk Roux, Lisa Heider, Cara Nieuwoudt and Abigail Crisp) participated in the third international conference presented by the Resilience Alliance (RA).  The RA champions the international discourse on resilience thinking; resilience being the capacity to deal with change and continue to develop. Resilience 2014 was hosted by the French Node of the RA and held in the south of France (Montpellier).

The Sustainability Research Unit (SRU) hosts discussions every Monday, during term, at 12.05 pm around issues facing the sustainability of South Africa and specifically the Garden Route and Eden district. These discussions are led by SRU members and guest presenters and are open to any interested parties.  If you would like to partake or be put on the mailing list please contact Samantha at Samantha.Mcculloch(at) 

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s (NMMU) Sustainability Research Unit and SAPECS would like to invite relevant Masters and PhD students to an ‘Ecosystems and Society’ Winter School that will be held at NMMU’s George Campus at Saasveld from 30 June to 4 July.

On the 25th and 26th of March the Water Research Commission visited the Sustainability Research Unit Team at NMMU George Campus for a strategic workshop. 

On the 7th of April 2014, the Sustainability Research Unit (SRU), NMMU, George Campus, hosted its first Sustainability Café for 2014, based on the World Café model. The Sustainability Café is a workshop method designed to stimulate discussion, build relationships and develop a mutual understandings around a common concern.