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Crucial Milestone for Ecosystems Research in South Africa

Extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders has led to the selection of six ecosystem research sites located across the country for the Expanded Freshwater and Terrestrial Environmental Observation Network (EFTEON), a large research infrastructure that is being developed under the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR) programme of the Department of Science and Innovation. EFTEON is hosted by the South African Environment Observation Network (SAEON), a national facility of the National Research Foundation (NRF).

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SA Government COVID-19 Portal

The South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, on Sunday the 15th March 2020, declared that the prevalence of COVID -19 (novel coronavirus) is a national state of disaster. This was followed by the announcement of a nationwide lockdown for the period midnight 26th March - midnight 16th April 2020. In compliance with this SAEON offices will close. SAEON staff will be working from their homes during this period.

Visit the South African government's COVID-19 portal at for information about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease it causes, plus statistics on its spread in SA and related government press releases.  

SAEON's COVID-19 contribution


In response to COVID-19 in South Africa, data scientists at the uLwazi Node of SAEON are creating a comprehensive list of preparedness indicators to support planning and response activities. These 52 indicators draw on the latest publicly available data from the Department of Health as well as other datasets hosted in SAEON's Open Data Repository. The South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas, an initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation, and implemented by SAEON, is being used to present the data in a clear and accessible manner. This online resource provides an atlas to visualise the data, links to download the data, as well as indicator dashboards to aid understanding of the factors that may amplify the risk of the coronavirus disease for local communities in South Africa. The team is continuously updating data resources and visualisations as new information is made available. 

Link to the Data:

SAEON learners scoop awards at the 2019 Eskom Expo International Science Fair

We are very proud of the SAEON supported learners who participated in the 2019 Eskom Expo. SAEON learners were awarded a Siemens bursary, laptops from Siemens and best project in the environmental studies category and best project in agricultural sciences category. Two projects were shortlisted to attend an international science fair next year. SAEON learners received 2 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze medals. Ndlovu Node mentored and supported Castro Mabunda, Amanda Khoza, Ndzalama Tihuhlu and Khutso Madiba. Through Castro Mabunda achievements at the 2019 Eskom Expo ISF, Siemens has awarded his school, Majeje High R225 000 for a lab upgrade. Elwandle Node mentored and supported Aphiwe Sikweza and Lindelihle Manyathi.


Castro Mabunda won a Siemens bursary worth R1.3 million, a laptop and received a gold medal for his project water refinement vortex, which can be used to save water.


Lindelihle Manyathi was shortlisted to attend an International Science fair next year and received a bronze medal and best environmental studies award for his project understanding estuaries using fish as an indicator species.


Amanda Khoza and Ndzalama Tihuhlu were shortlisted to attend an International Science fair next year and received a silver medal for their project auto energy capture, which can convert CO2 into energy and Methanol. 


Aphiwe Sikweza received a gold medal and best agricultural science award for his project Berries to the rescue, using golden berries as a fertiliser


Khutso Madiba received a bronze medal for his project Sustainable use of water within households, Phalaborwa, Limpopo Province, South Africa. 

SAEON Special Awards at the 2019 Eskom Expo International Science Fair


SAEON awarded three special awards to the best projects in environmental monitoring. Sisanda Mthiyane, Nicolaas Tobias Moolman and Lindelihle Manyati received a certificate and a pair of binoculars, to inspire these promising young scientists to remain curious and keep observing what’s around them and SAEON owns publication, Environmental Change. 


Sisanda Mthiyane explored where southern-masked weavers prefer to build their nest, won the award for best project in the grade 6-7 category and received a bronze medal from 2019 Eskom Expo ISF.  Nicolaas Tobias Moolman investigated if duckweed can be used as an indicator of water quality, received the award for the best project in the grade 8-9 category and also received a gold medal and best environmental studies project in the junior category from 2019 Eskom Expo ISF. Lindelihle Manyati project investigated if fish can be used as indicators to improve the understanding of estuaries and received the award for the best project in the grade 10-12 category.   


SAEON National Office Celebrates NRF 20 Year Anniversary


SAEON National office advances knowledge through the conceptualisation of environmental science games. Transforms lives through play.  Inspires the nation through reflections of the past 20 Years at NRF. 

Benthic Invert Field guide cover page

Field Guide to the Offshore Marine Invertebrates of South Africa launched !


The long awaited publication of the Field Guide to the offshore marine invertebrates edited by Dr. Lara Atkinson and Dr. Kerry Sink was launched at a celebration at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town on 10 May 2018. 

The event was attended by several authors and collaborators of this book, as well as representatives of partner institutions, namely SANBI, the Department of Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the Iziko Museum and the National Research Foundation (NRF).
A digital version of this publication is available online at

For more information and to access the digital version, please click here.

 SAEON annual report 16/17 cover
HOT OFF THE PRESS: SAEON Annual Report 2016/17 is available now ! 

For the first time SAEON produced an annual report  - previously we produced 5-year overviews. In this report we have incorporated the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, and highlighted how our work contributes to meeting those goals.

The report was presented and submitted to the NRF CEO: Dr Molapo Qhobela and two members of the Corporate Executive during a function at the Elwandle Node in Port Elizabeth on 5 April 2018.

The Web Version is available for download here.

The address to the report is


NEWS UPDATE: SAEON receives 1st  place for Best Waterworld Exhibiton at Sci-fest Africa 2018 
SAEON Award at Sci-Fest Africa 2018
NEWS UPDATE: Expanded Freshwater and Terrestrial Environment Observation Network (EFTEON)
See the link below 
EFTEON showcase
NEWS UPDATE: Marine Biodiversity in the Spotlight

Ramaphosa and the science of the spotlight

The world is a better place, knowing that two scientists – Dr Lara Atkinson from the South African Earth Observation Network and Dr Kerry Sink from the South African National Biodiversity Institute – spend their days collaborating to figure out what creatures are living in South Africa’s offshore waters. Atkinson said that she and colleagues had “rediscovered” four marine species thought to be extinct, and discovered 21 new species.

Sink takes this knowledge and applies it: whether it is to bioprospecting or developing policy for marine protected areas. She ended her presentation with a coral found off South Africa’s coast, pointing out that they can live for 4 000 years and contain the history of our climate and world.

So, while there are challenges and politics, day one also told the story of two scientists, building our understanding of the world, one species at a time.

Full article here:

NEWS UPDATE: PGS Signs Agreement with South African SAMREF for use of Surplus Data
See the link below
NEWS UPDATE: Preparing SAEON's first quarterly report for the new financial year
Law & Theo
As a public-funded organisation, SAEON is responsible and accountable for proper financial management and reporting. Not only do we have to comply with the Public Finance Management Act, National Research Foundation policies and regulations issued by the National Treasury, but we also have to apply general austerity measures, proper accounting and efficient and effective financial management in order to extract maximum public value from the public funds we are entrusted with. We are currently preparing the first mandatory quarterly report and this picture shows Lawrence Matsena (Budget and Procurement Controller) and Dr Theo Jongwana (Manager of the SAEON National Office) hard at work on our financial report.  
NEWS UPDATE: The Northern Cape Wetland Forum was officially launched in April and SAEON was elected as one of four committee members

Northern Cape Wetland Forum Logo
Northern Cape Wetland Forum Revived


The Northern Cape Wetlands Forum (NCWF) was officially launched at a meeting held in April at the Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley. Dr Betsie Milne, representing SAEON Arid Lands Node, was elected one of four committee members, the others being Dr Doug Harebottle from Sol Plaatje University (Chair), Peter Ramollo from Department of Environment and Nature Conservation (Secretary) and Kenneth Lucas from Frances Baard District Municipality to steer the Northern Cape Wetlands Forum (NCWF). For years the NCWF has been a stagnant component of the Northern Cape/Free State Wetland Forum due to little interest or expertise in the province, but with increasing interest and wetland-related work taking place in the Northern Cape a more focussed, regional approach was deemed necessary. The Forum aims to promote and facilitate a co-ordinated approach to the conservation, wise use, effective management and rehabilitation of wetlands in the province through co-operative governance by engaging scientists, researchers, decision-makers, conservationists, land owners, nature enthusiasts and the general public with a common passion for wetlands.

The NCWF is one of 10 forums across South Africa that promotes wetlands in their respective regions. These forums congregate annually during the Wetlands Indaba to share research findings, forum activities and progress with wetland policies and related management. This year, the Indaba will be hosted by the KZN Wetland Forum in Port Edward during 16 - 19 October. For more information visit:

NEWS UPDATE: SeaKeys Monitoring Report by Lara Atkinson, Kerry Sink, Hannah Raven, Mari-Lise Franken and Heather Terrapon – August 2016



The SeaKeys project is a large collaborative three year marine research project (2013-2016) involving 30 team members from more than 17 different organisations led by Dr Kerry Sink from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI): Marine Program. The project aims to collate, increase and disseminate marine biodiversity information and support the application of this knowledge in monitoring, decision making and maintaining benefits from marine biodiversity for South Africans. This research project is funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa through the Foundational Biodiversity Information (FBI) Programme. The SeaKeys Project is the first large collaborative program funded through the FBI programme.


In addressing the objectives of the SeaKeys project, a Monitoring Working Group led by SAEON’s Dr Lara Atkinson, aimed to collate and summarise marine monitoring initiatives underway in South Africa and advise on monitoring priorities and gaps. A SeaKeys Monitoring Workshop was held in November 2015 at SANBI, Kirstenbosch. The final product of the SeaKeys Monitoring Working Group culminated in a detailed report and an online GIS project providing an overview of existing marine monitoring intitiatives in South Africa. And a gap analysis. The final report, spatial layers and metadata can be downloaded from the SANBI website. Click Here to read more...


NEWS UPDATE: Do You Have A Track Record In Ecological Economic Modelling?


                                                                                                                                                                   SARCHI image 


Then consider the call for a new Chair in Integrated Ecological Economic Modelling at SAEON as part of the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARCHI). This Chair is mandated to advance environmental futures research through the qualitative and quantitative analysis and modelling of large-scale enviro-socio-economic frameworks and data across SAEON domains and nodes, and through which national environmental policy and management can be informed.


The call can be downloaded here and the specifics are on page 19. 




NEWS UPDATE: SAEON eNews among top six in South African Publication Forum Awards  


SAEON Publications Awards


For the fourth year running, SAEON eNews was among the top six electronic newsletters in the ‘Best Electronic Publication’ category of the SA Publication Forum Awards.


The publication received a Certificate of Merit for scoring more than 80% in writing, communication and design.


The judges’ comments were as follows:

  • Image:  The newsletter projects a positive image of SAEON and is very much attuned with its readership. 
  • Objectives and target audience:  The objectives are clearly evident and the publication’s layout and content support these objectives. Everything (language, communication and design) in the publication supports the fact that the editor is in tune with her audience. 
  • Substance, newsworthiness and viewpoints Well done on this score. The publication lends itself to increasing depth of knowledge amongst its readers.
  • Language usage and editing:  Good use of language. The sentences are short and to the point.
  • Headlines, captions and introductions:  The intros are short to the point - very functional. Functional headlines and creative to boot.
  • Accessibility and navigation:  The navigation works well and the publication is accessible to the target audience.
  • General comments: Well done on a publication that admirably meets the needs of its target audience.

The competition organisers remarked: “This year we received the most entries ever in the SA Publication Forum’s 15 years of existence. The publication industry is growing and competition is fierce among industry players.”


 NEWS UPDATE: Dr Joh Henschel Awarded NRF Rating

           Joh Henschel

 Happy as a Karoo Lark: Joh Henschel of the Arid Lands Node was recently awarded a C1-rating by NRF.


In 2013 Dr. Henschel returned from Namibia to join the SAEON Arid Lands Node in Kimberley as node manager. Since then he has thrown his full weight into the research of the arid lands, and this is now aptly rewarded. Being awarded a C1 rating signifies an established researcher who, on the basis of the high quality and impact of his/her recent research has considerable international recognition and who has substantially advanced knowledge and understanding in his research field.

Dr Joh Henschel has a wide area of expertise, from marine biology to hyena behaviour and community ecology. But his real interest is in arid environments and in spiders (arachnology). He is also an excellent popular science writer and has published a book of short articles and a poetry volume relating the marvels of life in the arid environments.

We congratulate Dr Henschel on this recognition!

Hot off the press: SAEON Highlight report 2011-2015

Highlight report

SAEON has recently published its highlight report for 2011 to 2015.

Click here to download the web version of the report.

For a low resolution of the report click here.


NEWS UPDATE: Joining Forces With Other Global Environmental Research Organisations And Networks… Towards An ILTER Network Of Networks


Day 2 of the Open Science Meeting focused on exploring opportunities for collaboration and investigating global environmental data requirements with the following global research organisations. (Read More Here)


NEWS UPDATE: First Ever ILTER Open Science Meeting Off To An Exciting Start

ILTER Openning Image 2016

Three hundred delegates from countries as far afield as China, Japan, India, Mexico, Austria , Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal and the United States converged on Skukuza in the Kruger National Park on Monday 10 October 2016 to share their research  in 160 presentations, reinforcing the International Long-Term Ecological Research (ILTER) Network’s status as an internationally acknowledged research network. (Read More Here) 

NEWS UPDATE:Signing Contract For Constructing Of New SAEON National Office


Back Row (L-R): Floris Van der Walt and Theo Jongwana (SAEON Office Manager). Front Row (L-R): Lawrence Matsena, Johan Pauw (SAEON Managing Director) and Thapelo Shai (Shaicon Construction Managing Director)

Signing contract for constructing of new SAEON National Office in Colbyn Pretoria with Olivehill Architects & Shaicon. The construction is expected to start next month (October 2016)


NEWS UPDATE: The Pans Are Wet - A Recce Delight            The Pans Are Wet - A Recce Delight

 Kans Se Vloer, a non-perennial pan along the R357 west of  Brandvlei  was wet after recent rains

 By Betsie Milne

Isolated, shallow depressions colloquially known as pans, vloere or kolke are prominent features in arid regions and it is therefore not surprising that the Karoo landscape of the Northern Cape Province are peppered with them. Most are endorheic in nature and due to their natural hydrological functioning they are subjected to complete desiccation during the dry season, which can last for decades. When it rains enough for these features to hold water, dormant aquatic organisms respond and scientists delight in a wetland resurrection!  (Click here to read more)

NEWS UPDATE: Summary Programme of 1st ILTER Open Science Meeting on the 9th-13th October at Kruger National Park

International Long Invite Image
Time is rapidly running out to register and book accommodation for the 1st International Long-Term Ecological Research Open Science Meeting, on the 9th-13th October. Given that the venue is in Skukuza, Kruger National Park, reservations have to be paid 2 months in advance. The park is home to approximately 2000 plants, (404 woody, 224 grasses), 53 fishes, 34 amphibians, 118 reptiles, 517 birds and 147 mammals (still counting the insects).
Everyone with a strong interest in ecosystem science, social-ecology, environmental science and environmental policy is most welcome to join and contribute to this unique global meeting of ecosystem scientists and global programs - in a world-renowned African nature reserve, larger than many countries. Please find a summary of the proceedings here:


NEWS UPDATE: Jane Lubchenco visits SAEON as US Special Envoy for the Ocean

Lubchenco visit image

Prof Jane Lubchenco and staff from the USA Embassy in South Africa thoroughly enjoyed their short cruise out on Algoa Bay in the company of SAEON Elwandle Node

President Barack Obama's Special Envoy for the Ocean, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, and her entourage were taken out to sea by SAEON Elwandle Node for a quick 2 hour trip to the western sector of Algoa Bay, onboard SAIAB's uKwabelana. Dr. Lubchenco is a world-renowned scientist of distinctive achievements in the academia, conservation, science, government. She is the former Administrator of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), former US Under-Secretary for Oceans and the Atmosphere Affairs, and former president of ICSU and of AAAS. (Read More...) 

NEWS UPDATE: Is sea level rise threatening ecologically important salt marshes in South African estuaries?               Salt marsh RSET

MSc student Athi Mfikili (right) and intern Reanetsi Pohlo measuring sediment elevation with a Rod Set Elevation Table in the Swartkops River estuary
Salt marshes are highly productive and biologically diverse coastal wetlands that are threatened by rising sea-level. Salt marsh habitats within the Swartkops Estuary were examined to determine their structure along an elevation gradient and how this structure has changed over the past seven decades, what the primary drivers of this structure were and whether the salt marsh surface is stable, rising or declining relative to current and future sea-level rise. (Read more here...)


NEWS UPDATE: Getting global change directions from Compassberg
Arid Lands Compassberg

 By Tshililo Ramaswiela and Joh Henschel, SAEON Arid Lands Node.

 Exciting: Tshililo installed a network of temperature i-buttons on and around the CompassbergWith CO2 and temperatures going up, which way will rainfall go? And what about species that are fine-tuned to conditions of these three factors? To try to get directions, the SAEON Arid Lands team first set out to the Compassberg in 2014. (Read more here...



By  Jethan d'Hotman 

Leg 1 of the Agulhas System Climate Array (ASCA) cruise began on the 6th of April and almost immediately we sailed through rough seas for the next 2 days. However when mooring operations began the conditions had improved and the work commenced in relatively flat seas. (Read more here...) 


NEWS UPDATE: SAEON assists South Africa in gearing up for the oceans economy


On 29 January 2016, the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, launched the South African Marine Research and Exploration Forum (SAMREF) at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. The forum is a joint initiative of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Offshore Petroleum Association of South Africa (OPASA). The minister signed a memorandum of understanding with OPASA Chairperson Mr Sean Lunn to establish the forum. Read more...


NEWS UPDATE: Sharing best practices in bringing the oceans into the classroom


In January, four members of SAEON’s Education Outreach team participated in the 2016 Marine and Coastal Educators Network (MCEN) National Conference, which was held at Habonim Campsite in Hermanus. MCEN is a network of educators who teach children and adults about marine and coastal environmental issues. These educators are either from the formal education sector (schools and universities) across South Africa, or from the informal education sector (aquariums, zoos and government). Read more here...


NEWS UPDATE: Scientists working on Benthic Trawl Experiment conclude their 3rd annual sampling expedition

The multi-institutional team of scientists working on the unique Benthic Trawl Experiment, have this week concluded their third annual sampling expedition to the offshore trawl closure area on the west coast. The team undertook photographic transects on the seafloor together with physical samples of sediment and infauna in trawled and untrawled areas.

The aim of this 5-year experiment is to assess benthic ecosystem recovery following cessation of trawling, in support of MSC eco-certification held by South Africa’s trawl fishery. Partners in this project include the South African Deep Sea Trawl Industry, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, University of Cape Town, South African National Biodiverisity Institute and the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON). Dr Charles von der Meden reports that a highlight of the expedition was the success of what is thought to be one of the deepest underwater research photographic surveys yet made in South Africa.  SAEON’s Ski-Monkey III deep-sea camera system recorded images of the seabed at a depth of 645m.

eNews image
Top: The team before departure on January 25th. From left, Ryan Palmer (SAIAB), Kerry Sink and Marilize Franken (SANBI), Karen Tunley (UCT), Xolani Methu (DAFF), Charles von der Meden (SAEON) and Chief scientist, Colin Attwood (UCT). Photo credit Claire Attwood.
Bottom left: A small rat tail (Lucigadus ori) swimming above the sandy seafloor, with starfish (Crossaster penicillatus) and a fine grey cerianthid anemone at 398m depth.
Bottom right: A jackopever rests on the seabed, again with starfish, Crossaster penicillatus.

NEWS UPDATE: New tree plantations may threaten ancient grasslands

Reforestation of grasslands to help fix atmospheric CO2 may sound logical - but is it really? The Cape Times' published this article in summarising last week's scientific paper by SAEON Chief Scientist, William Bond, in the highly rated journal Science.

New tree plantations may threaten ancient grasslands

 Click here to view full size image and read full article.


Read more updates here...

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