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RU Environmental Award Winners 2019

Congratulations to the 2019 Environmental Award winners: Environmental Health and Biotechnology Research Group (RU department or institute or section) and Chad Keates (Individual).

At a celebratory function on Tuesday 25 September 2019, winners received unique and beautiful floating trophies and framed certificates, presented by Prof Hugo Nel and Associate Prof. Michelle Cocks was the speaker at this year's event. The Environmental Award winners and nominees are thanked for helping to promote and further socio-ecological sustainability – in line with the University’s Environmental Sustainability Policy.

Winners are also acknowledged in the Rhodes University graduation booklet, and on the Environmental Awards  at the main library.

More about the winners:

Environmental Health and Biotechnology Research Group

Founded in 2008, the winner in the Department/Institute/Section category has pursued ambitious socio-ecological and water quality standard restoration programmes, through both research and innovation. The Environmental Health and Biotechnology Research Group (EHBR) is focussed on the reuse and the treatment of wastewater, as well as the improvement of water quality through constant monitoring, which are all pertinent issues given our current water crisis in Makhanda. The pioneering research conducted by the group is focused on the protection of the environment through a range of applications, ranging from water testing kits to the removal of pharmaceuticals from freshwater systems.

The group have successfully worked on the introduction of a Hydrogen sulphide testing kit, which is an easily accessible kit for testing microbial water quality, and have also come up with an innovative way of communicating water quality results to the community. This new innovative way of communication is called the Traffic light system, and was developed to communicate the results obtained from the H2S kits in a manner that can be easily understood by the public. This research lead to the awarding of the Community Engagement researcher of the year to this group in 2018.

The research conducted by the EHBR is also making a significant contribution to greywater management on our campus. The group is currently working with the Environmental reps in each residence on campus to test the Greywater and drinking water in the tanks provided by the university. Greywater is analysed for faecal coliforms and total suspended solids before and after treatment, to ascertain the best possible methods for reuse. These innovations are much needed considering the dire effects of drought on our campus, and city.

Besides the outstanding research output of the EHBR, this group and its members actively engage with the community on water and sanitation issues. Strengthening community partnerships within the research group activities is the group's main aim. The group has been running a community-based water quality monitoring programme in Makhanda for the past 3 years which includes Grade 9 learners from 3 Local high schools. The Grade 9 learners from each school monitor the microbial water from their households using the improved Hydrogen Sulphide Test kit. Local schools are also currently working with the group to monitor the microbial water quality in their rainwater tanks.

This engagement programme with the community of Makhanda about the concepts of water quality and health facilitates the development of the necessary connection between academia and the society at large in matters concerning environmental health. Through its growing student cohort, the group ensures sustainability of water quality and sanitation projects within Rhodes University and the community.

Chad Keates

The individual award winner, Chad Keates, has embarked on initiatives to conserve biodiversity and to promote greater environmental responsibility in the local community with great passion. His actions reflect the University policy’s commitment to the protection of biodiversity and enhancement of ecosystem functioning. His educational activities show strong evidence of increased awareness in the community of how vital animal conservation is.   

In the last few years Chad, who is completing his PhD in genetic herpetology, has organised and presented countless presentations and demonstrations about reptiles and amphibians in Makhanda. With these interactions he educates the public and dispels myths about these creatures. Many people resort to killing these animals because they do not understand them. Through his educational talks, and also because he is on call to remove and release reptiles safely, he has reduced the number of reptiles killed by the community. He organises “critter walks” to show the community the diversity of native reptiles in the town, and highlights issues posed by habitat destruction and pollution. A previous environmental awards winner had the following to say about her experience at one of these presentations:

I have attended one of his talks, and he really does go above and beyond his duties as a researcher. His passion for snakes and reptiles shines through and his efforts to educate and enhance understanding of our indigenous snakes is truly commendable.

A fellow researcher in the department of Zoology and Entomology also attests to the positive effects of his community engagement and the infectiousness of his love for snakes and reptiles:

I have attended many of his talks and events, and have heard and seen how adults and children alike have admitted to completely changing their perspective of reptiles. Many people who were terrified of snakes before, touch and hold a snake for the first time at his demonstrations, and people who admitted to killing snakes before prefer to call him to remove them instead.

Most of Chad's work is completely voluntary, as his main goal is to do as much as he can to conserve the animals he studies and loves. Besides presentations and demonstrations, our winner runs his own website, which not only documents these events, but also acts as a database for one to identify reptiles in South Africa. Furthermore, he distributes posters on reptiles – currently he is collaborating with the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA) to create placards and signs aimed at educating and reminding people about frogs and how to conserve them.

His work has continuity. Chad has sparked the interest of other students at Rhodes University who have learned from him and are available to remove snakes in Makhanda when he is not available and his collaboration with WESSA has helped to highlight the importance of those reptiles which are not well known by the general public.

Last Modified: Wed, 30 Oct 2019 10:45:57 SAST