Ivainashe Nyamutsamba
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With the globe racing against time in the wake of climate change, the contemporary era witnesses a ferocious consumer appetite for single-use products.These include grocery shopping bags and plastic bottled water, the latter of which carries an average of a quarter million microplastics per litre, according to an EWG article. In response to the ever-increasing problem of global warming, UP’s Dr Romina Henriques and her team are leading the UP fight against climate change. 

Dr Henriques is a marine biologist in UP’s Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology. Her study of and expertise on the vast marine species in South Africa has provided her with valuable insights into identifying and formulating sustainable solutions to the challenges that are troubling humanity today.      

In an article available on the UP website, Dr Henriques states, “We are in the midst of the largest redistribution of species in the shortest geological time frame ever.” Many species have taken millions of years to evolve and adapt to natural environmental changes. However, the recent ecological and climatic changes pose a threat to marine species, as they are now forced to undergo the evolutionary process within only a few decades or risk extinction. The erratic changes of the climate have exerted an unprecedented ecological pressure on the marine species, which negatively affects the greater population. 

Dr Henriques notes that the changes are happening now, regardless of whether South Africa meets its emissions target. For example, there are shifts in the flow patterns of the Benguela and Agulhas currents as they interact with rainfall patterns inland. This is making parts of the West Coast and Southern Cape cooler, while the East Coast is becoming warmer. Consequently, anchovies have migrated from the West Coast to the South Coast, while kelp has moved into the Southern Cape. This, along with the shift in the wind patterns, affects commercial fishing trawlers and the communities that depend on their existence. 

Dr Henriques has invited the UP community to band together with the common goal of mitigating global warming. Her team has developed an interactive platform called iNaturalist. The application involves grassroots community engagement that brings scientists and the community together. Members of the community can download the application on digital platforms. As the community interacts with their environment, they can take pictures, record videos and upload their content. The data captured will be used by experts in tracking, observing and studying the environment and coming up with ideas that will be used in making new policies in South Africa.