At just 17 years old, a bright and passionate young scientist from Makhanda in the Eastern Cape impressed judges at the 43rd Eskom Expo International Science Fair with a remarkable project that delves into the critical subject of habitat use by juvenile fish.
Alutha Botha from Nombulelo Senior Secondary School’s research project is part of an area that holds significant ecological and economic importance. Collecting essential data on juvenile fish in shallow coastal areas is important for its conservation management. By focusing on these fragile habitats and seeking ways to protect them, the young scientist embarked on a mission to safeguard not only the local environment, but also extended the research to the coasts of South Africa and potentially other nations.
“I asked a lot of question about how the ocean is important to our country. That with my love for marine life, inspired my research project,” said Botha, who was awarded a Bronze medal for his research. I used non-baited remote underwater stereo videos (RUVs)for data collection because they do not damage the fish environment or affect their behaviour.
My love for science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and innovation (STEMI) comes from my passion for detail. When I was introduced to The South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), I started studying the ocean and researching, which caused my love for marine science to grow,” he said.
At the ISF, the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) awarded the Best Project for Environmental Monitoring in the Grade 11 and Grade 12 category to Botha, who bagged a tablet computer. He was also one of 10 learners selected to receive a highly sought-after 12-month mentorship and incubation programme, sponsored by the Durban University of Technology. The programme, valued at an impressive R20,000 per learner.
“I felt really good to win at the Eskom Expo ISF. I wanted more wins because of my competitive genes, but I learnt a lot and want to come back next year with a polished, refined and perfect project based on what I was advised by the judges and everyone who spoke to me,” said Botha, who was awarded a year’s free tuition at Rhodes University’s Faculty of Science worth about R60,000 at the regional leg of the competition.
“I enjoyed the pressure of deadlines, having someone I don’t know judge my project; and I loved learning from my peers and those older than me. I plan on studying Environmental Sciences and Marine Sciences, as I want to make a positive impact on science, while making science more fashionable to the youth,” he said.
Eskom Acting Group Executive for Government & Regulatory Affairs, Natasha Sithole said: “Congratulations to all the young scientists who enthusiastically participated in the Eskom Expo International Science Fair this year. We at Eskom would like to express our delight at the increased participation this year, especially among girl scientists, and would like to emphasise the importance of fostering diversity in the field of science. Eskom remains enthusiastic about its role in cultivating a rich pipeline of future scientists for South Africa, ensuring that the nation’s scientific landscape continues to thrive with innovation and inclusivity”.
Eskom Expo Executive Director, Parthy Chetty, said: “Climate change, overfishing and habitat destruction are high on the agenda of marine scientists and researchers. It is encouraging to note that a young grade 11 learner is not only taking such a keen interest in marine environmental management but has also made significant contributions to the field. Eskom Expo for Young Scientists provides a platform for young scientists such as Alutha to share their research with their peers and the scientific community at large”.