Weekend Report: Communications Practical, Astronomy, Climate and Weather 15-17 September 2023

The weekend of 15-17 September arguably qualifies as THE busiest weekend of the course this year.

When we arrived at Pilanesberg on Friday the 15th of September we had no clue of what we were going to experience, apart from the test and the presentations. But a lot more than we had expected, was in store for us!

Not only did we write the Archaeology test on Friday evening, but the teams had to give their respective communication practical presentations to the Bushveld Mosaic assessors, and students and staff from the Pretoria Zoo Club and Selly Park Secondary School on Saturday morning. Plus we had to cover two new modules: Astronomy, and Climate and Weather. To top it all, we were challenged Saturday afternoon, evening and through the night by a wildfire, which ultimately destroyed part of Potokwane camp and ending up burning a large section of the park.

We started writing the Archaeology test half an hour earlier than normal (18:30) with Sue and Britta as our invigilators. After the test we divided into our groups and had a dry run of our presentations with Sue and Britta who also gave us last minute advice and valuable tips.

Saturday morning kicked off early with a flurry of activity – teams Grasslands, Rocky Slopes and Wetlands setting up gazeboes, chairs, props, models, etc for the lectures to follow. After weeks of preparation and anticipation each team was poised to give this practical their best shot.  By early morning it was already evident that we were in for a very hot day. Team Grasslands had a shadow rich spot next to the Education Centre – and was armed with what felt like hundreds of litres of cold Oros for the kids, whilst Teams Rocky Slopes and Wetlands were more exposed to the elements.

The untiring sun and heat through the day took its toll and both team members and the students were thoroughly exhausted waiting in the heat and walking from team to team for the presentations.

The teams each presented their ecosystem to the three sets of students – it was compulsory that every team member do a ten-minute presentation, which meant that each team member got three chances to get his/her act just right. We had lots of fun and every team member brought his/her own unique style and personality to the table. The several weeks of preparation paid off: a lot of time and preparation went into most of the individual presentations, complete with models, unique items from the specific biomes and fiery demonstrations. The feedback from both Selly Park and Zoo Club were that the pupils thoroughly enjoyed the weekend.

After the communications practical we joined the pupils in the education centre where we were treated to their respective presentations on alternative energy, stopping pollution and especially alternative ways in which to recycle plastic. It was encouraging to see the passion and care of the youth for the environment. We need their support if we want to change the destruction that humans are causing to our earth and turn things around. The quality and level of preparation and presentation by these students were amazing. The theme was “Educating an Erupting Plastic Nation”.

Saturday’s formal events were in the end a good learning experience and enjoyable for all of us. Unbelievably, not an hour after the presentations, disaster struck. We had to evacuate Potokwane camp because of a runaway fire caused by careless humans apparently in the vicinity of Fish Eagle picnic spot.

We retreated to Manyane resort and eventually slept in the open, under the stars, in the main tourist camp as the fire swept through Potokwane campsite and continued to destroy a huge part of Pilanesberg Game Reserve. It was a new and different burnt-down world we woke up to the next day with our eyes still burning from the smoke of the fire.

Fortunately, we could continue our lectures on Climate and Weather and Astronomy by the two Gordon-Cumming brothers, Ian and Peter.

Ian is a world-renowned meteorologist who, amongst many interesting things, told us about the effect of global warming and climate change on our planet. With an overpopulated earth it is uncertain whether there is any commitment from us humans to turn things around. Only time will tell, but the future does not look bright. Peter lectured on stars and planets and space. The universe is awe-inspiring, wonderful and unbelievable. A miracle indeed!

On Sunday as we left to go home the fire was still raging through big sections of Pilanesberg and the springtide that caused so much damage to coastal towns on the Garden route over the weekend, reminded us again, that climate change is a reality and we all have a role to play if we want to change things around and save our wonderful green planet.

Next stop: Borakalalo and the wilderness!

ED’s NOTE: It has taken a bit of getting there, but thanks to Grasslands for this wide-ranging report on an action packed communications weekend.