Earth Day with Vision Afrika

Tweets about Phytophthora

Earth Day with Vision Afrika

"Is this community conservation or environmental education?" asked Adam, a CPUT Work Integrated Learning student who volunteered his Earth Day with us this year. We answered: "Well... that's the great thing about citizen science, its both".

Cape Citizen Science is community conservation and environmental education smashed together to facilitate biological research about plant disease in the Cape Florisitc Region. This past weekend is a great example of what we're talking about. On Saturday, Earth Day, we provided an opportunity for 31 learners to release their inner scientist as citizen scientists in Jonkershoek Nature Reserve.

The story begins with some generous backers of a crowdfunding campaign on In February 2017, many individuals contributed funding so that we could cover the costs to engage youth from Kayamandi in our research. We also recevied financial support from the American Phytopathological Society through the Mathre Education Endowment Fund and the Promotion Fund from the British Society for Plant Pathology.

Thanks to those backers and awards, we were able to transport and provide food for 31 learners to travel to Jonkershoek Nature Reserve.

The youth we engaged are scholars involved in the after school learning program Vision Afrika. Spending Earth Day with us was a reward for spending the previous three saturdays studying at the Vision Afrika centre in Kayamandi.

Vision Afrika is an incredible program that fosters the success of many learners through after school learning activities and opportunities. On Saturday, we met with the learners at Vision Afrika and drove to the Cape Nature offices at Jonkershoek Nature Reserve.


Before our activity in the field, we started with a presentation in a Cape Nature conference room. The presentation introduced the learners to the reasons we do research, the importance of biodiversity, and the threats to the fynbos. We also introduced the concept of pathogen hunting, our earth day activity to sample diseased plants in the reserve. 

To involve the learners fully in the scientific process we generated a hypothesis to test during the activity. We hypothesized that we would find a greater diversity of Phytophthora species adjacent to a trail that received heavy traffic compared to a trail that had less traffic.

To test this hypothesis we chose two trails, a very popular trail to a waterfall, and a long and less popular trail called the Panorama hiking trail.

We set out into the beautiful Jonkershoek Nature Reserve after the presentation.

The field component of the activity involved hiking 30 minutes on two seperate trails, starting from the 10km loop road in the middle of the reserve.

We also made sure to take a few minutes to talk about the ecology and disturbances we saw. The first hike had lots of evidence of fire.

During the hikes we collected samples of sick looking plants along or close to the trails. Everyone collected at least one sample between the six different sites we stopped at (3 sites per trail).

We needed a break after the hikes so we hung out on the Eerste river for a bit.

Finally, it was time to Braai! So we headed back to the picnic area in the Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve. But the Science continued, we still needed to isolate pathogens from the sick plants we sampled.

After a quick demonstration, the learners took their pathogen hunting skills to the next level as they began primary isolations. For this, we cut small pieces of the infected plants and placed them into petri-plates containing 'pathogen food' (agar suspended maize meal).

By the end of the activity we had completed primary isolations for 72 samples. Incredible!

We consider Earth Day with Vision Africa a huge success and are grateful for the support we received from our backers, the American Phytopathological Society, and the British Society for Plant Pathology, and most especially, the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute.

This is the first of many engagement activities with learners from impoverished communities. We look forward to doing it again. If you would like to contribute or join in the next one, please contact us.

Photo credit: Michelle Agne and Joey Hulbert