South Africa the place to be, says environmental scientist

10 February 2010 | Story by Newsroom

Sir Norman MyersNew perspective: Prof Norman Myers has been spending time with UCT master's students, teaching them of the dangers of the mass extinction of species.

This evening, Professor Norman Myers, a fellow of The James Martin 21st Century School and the Said Business School at Oxford University, will speak on the mass extinction of species when he delivers the Vice-Chancellor's Open Lecture at UCT; it's also a topic Myers has been broaching in some detail with a group of master's students over the past two weeks.

Myers has been a regular visitor to UCT over the past years, teaching each year's inaugural module to the conservation biology master's students at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. This year he concentrated on issues of mass extinction.

It's a topic that should be of some concern to South Africa, which is home to three of the world's 34 'biodiversity hotspots', as Myers describes them. These are areas of "exceptional" concentrations of species, he explains.

South Africa is also the only country in the world to boast more than two such hotspots, explains Myers.

"Table Mountain has almost as many species as the whole of the British Isles," Myers says. "It's like a global epicentre, jam-pack full of species. So South Africa is super-special."

And while the students may be familiar with the concept, Myers has brought a fresh perspective to proceedings, says student Kate du Plessis. "Norman's taught us how to think about how we are impacting the environment, and what we can do to make changes," she notes.

That outsider's insight, which comes with a global perspective, is one of the reasons the Fitztitute brings Myers back every year, says the Institute's Dr Rob Little. "Norman brings the big-picture approach, and integrates environmental science theory with everyday human behaviour."

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