SANBI’S Kirstenbosch Shines the Spotlight on Biodiversity Careers

biodiversity career day 2014A Biodiversity Career Day was held at SANBI’s Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden on the 6th of March to highlight the wide variety of options in biodiversity and environmental careers to Grade 10 – 12 learners from 13 local schools and bridging colleges.


In the current economic climate in South Africa, unemployment is a very real challenge for many of our young adults leaving school and university. Often traditional careers are over-subscribed and other options are not explored early enough by our school leavers to allow them the opportunity to easily gain access to new emergent job opportunities.  

A total of 188 learners and 13 teachers attended the event. Each school had its own schedule and they moved every 15 minutes to a different career or university station, escorted by a SANBI education officer or a Botanical Society volunteer.  

Learners were given the opportunity to enter areas of the Kirstenbosch Research Centre buildings which are normally restricted to the general public. These included the Compton Herbarium, the DNA molecular and Global Pollination laboratories, as well as the GIS computer lab, where SANBI scientists presented aspects of their work.

 Other SANBI and Partner Programmes presented careers in sectors such as Biodiversoty Planning and Policy Advice; Climate Change and Bio-Adaptation; Land Use Management; Invasive Species Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR); and the collection and storage of seeds by the Millennium Seed Bank and the reasons why this is necessary. The South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) Fynbos node put up weather station equipment to illustrate how they take recordings of data and explained why this was necessary. Out in the Plant Production Nursery, the learners were shown how indigenous and threatened plants are propagated under controlled conditions.  

Staff from various partner organisations also presented the career paths they have followed in order to accomplish their work. Bianca Engel of the Two Oceans Aquarium enthralled learners with her practical examples of marine careers and environmental education; staff of the Iziko Museum brought examples of taxidermists’ work, insects from the entomology section as well as fossils found and investigated by palaeontologists; the City of Cape Town illustrated a wide variety of careers available in the City Reserves; and Dale Wright of BirdLife explained how one can study for a more generalised conservation degree or diploma and then specialise in a particular field, such as ornithology, later.  

Four local universities also participated in this event. The University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape, Stellenbosch University and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology were all on hand to explain the courses of study open to the learners, as well as entry requirements and processes and bursary opportunities.  

As the learners circulated through the career stations in their groups of 15, they were able to interact on a personal level with biodiversity and educational professionals in a way seldom afforded at school level. Time was allocated at each station for questions and this proved very valuable for those who found themselves really interested in what had been presented.  

Erna Lehy, Principal of Holy Cross High School, commented, at the end of the day, that in all her years of teaching and exposing her learners to career expos and events, this was by far the most effective format she had ever experienced. She commended the organisers on the efficient way in which it was structured and the personal contact her learners had had with so many professionals during the day.

 The event was organised by Sally Hey and the staff of the Gold Fields Environmental Education Centre in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Sponsorship of items for the teacher goodie bags was received from the Botanical Society of South Africa and the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden shop.

For more information contact Sally Hey on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 021 799 8670/6

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