Newsletter – August 2023


  • The quest for food security Thursday 17 August @17h30
  • Darwin’s journey of discovery
  • Chameleon survey
  • Tree planting in Whale Coast Nature Reserve



A talk by Prof Jill Farrant | Thursday 17 August @ 17h30

As the global population continues to rise and climate change threatens agricultural productivity, scientists and farmers alike are turning to nature for inspiration. Resurrection plants, a group of extraordinary botanical survivors, have captured the attention of researchers aiming to develop drought-resistant crops. These remarkable plants possess the ability to withstand extreme dehydration and bounce back to life when water becomes available. Exploring the secrets behind resurrection plants could hold the key to securing our future food production in the face of water scarcity and changing climatic conditions.

The extraordinary resilience displayed by resurrection plants has inspired scientists to attempt to uncover the underlying genetic and physiological mechanisms that could be harnessed to develop drought-resistant crops. By understanding the genetic pathways and biochemical processes involved, researchers hope to engineer or breed crops that can withstand severe water scarcity without compromising yield or nutritional quality.

Photo: Mail & Guardian

The speaker, Jill Farrant, is a full Professor and holds a South African Research Chair in “Systems Biology Studies on Plant Desiccation Tolerance for Food Security” in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Cape Town.


She is an acknowledged world leader in the field of plant desiccation tolerance (holding a rarely given A-rated status by the South African National Research Foundation). She works on both seeds and resurrection plants.

Her research is multidisciplinary, utilising techniques involved in molecular biology, biochemistry, cell biology and physiology to understand both protection and regulatory mechanisms associated with desiccation tolerance, for the production of extremely drought tolerant crops.



A large audience braved the wintery weather to hear Mike Bruton’s talk about Charles Darwin’s physical and mental journey that led to his seminal work on the origin of species.

Darwin’s methodology was the old-fashioned science of observation, collection and classification of data.

He had an open- minded approach to his work which enabled him to reach novel conclusions. He was driven by curiocity and his own imagination.

He was unaffected by the conventional dogma of the time and was patient and unhurried in his work.

Photo: Anina Lee introducing the speaker.


Darwin’s groundbreaking theory of natural selection was based on his observation that the earth and its ecosystems change over time. While space and food are limited, organisms are in a constant struggle for survival and have to adapt to change if they are to survive. When they breed, radom novelties may arise and the best-adapted of these will survive, breed and pass on their genes. This gives rise to permanent, irreversible changes in a population.

Mike concluded his thought-provoking talk with the question: ‘What would have surprised Darwin today?’

Mike conjectured that he would have been surprised at the extent of the fossil record; by the advances in genetics and genetic engineering; the number of active neo-Darwinists; the rise of creationism; and that science and religion are still not reconciled. Most of all, he would have been appalled by the detruction humans are wreaking on their environment, to the extent that they may be engineering their own extinction.

The theory of evolution by natural selection explains most phenomina in nature. “Nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution” – wrote Theodosius Dobzhansky.

It revolutionized our understanding of past, present and future. It explains biodiversity, biological processes and the struggle for survival.

It is significant that the theory has never been disputed by scientists (who generally love to prove other scientists wrong).

Moreover, Darwin’s work has promoted public understanding of the process of evolution.


Photo: Shirley Mgoboza thanked Mike on behalf of WCC for yet another brilliant talk.




Text and photos by Tertia Hendricks

Just over four years ago on Thursday 13 June 2019, it was a chilly 6°C in Hermanus, under a clear night sky, with not a breath of wind.

Back then, a handful of volunteer chameleon monitors (left) bundled up warmly, and spotted 50 chameleons in the fynbos along the coastal cliff path at Eastcliff.

What joy we had again this past month on Thursday 13 July, at exactly the same location, also at a cold 13°C under windless weather conditions.

This time 14 eager volunteers searched and found 98 chameleons!


We estimate that up to 200 chameleons are probably thriving there in the dense fynbos between the sea and the buildings along the coast. Surely we should maintain such essential co-existence with the fynbos creatures all over our beautiful town!






The children’s faces were aglow with awe as they found chameleons of different sizes: the smaller, the cuter! Their luminous colours were fascinating! It seems that restios are the chameleons’ favourite night-time perches but we also found them settled on a variety of other fynbos plants.

A huge thank you to WCC for ensuring that wonders never cease!


Our chameleon project is multifaceted.

It engages with young children who have the opportunity to learn all about chameleons and help to establish a sanctuary for them by hand pulling alien vegetation as soon as it sprouts from the seed bank in the ground. They meet on a weekly basis. This is a critical cog in the wheel of this project. Their little hands have pulled up 87,792 invasive alien plants between September 2020 and July 2023. They have prevented a whole forest of aliens taking over once again.

Older children form the bulk of the chameleon volunteers who perform serious citizen-science surveys of chameleon populations – as described above.

Thirdly, the citizen-science contributes to an academic-level research project on citizen- science geostories methodology. The outcomes have been presented at national as well as international platforms. A paper by Sheraine van Wyk and Priya Vallabh is in preparation for publication in a special edition of the Southern African Journal of Environmental Education. A further two papers are planned for international publication.

Anyone is welcome to volunteer for the chameleon surveys. Please contact Sheraine on 083 484 0202 to join the survey WhatsApp group.



The Whale Coast Nature Reserve plays host not only chameleons, but also to the camps in nature that WCC organises for the youth.

The camp site is beautifully nestled under milkwood trees with a nearby campfire area.

WCC uses the camps to expose the youth to the pleasures of outdoor activities (rather than electronic devices), getting acquainted with their environment and leaning the value of biodiversity. The camps are becoming so popular that thoughts are turning to additional camp sites to house more camps in future. With this in mind ongoing tree planting is expanding the forested areas of the nature reserve.

Anyone can join in the next tree planting opportunity on Wednesday 2 August.

Meet at the Green House at 11h40.

For more information call Sheraine on 083 484 0202.





WCC has long struggled with the lack of transport for some of our employees and for small groups of learners.

So we were delighted to receive a donation of a Honda from the Lee family to assist us in our work.

Shirley now has wheels!






Written by Anina Lee