SAEON is collaborating with the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) to undertake and manage long-term environmental research on their Square Kilometre Array site, situated near the town of Carnarvon in the Northern Cape Province. The SKA site is situated in the central part of South Africa within the Nama Karoo Biome. This area, known as the Bushmanland, is largely unstudied and thus very little is known of the biotic and abiotic elements present in the landscape. As a result, even less is known about how these biotic and abiotic elements would respond to future changes in land-use and environmental conditions in the Nama Karoo.
The SKA core area comprises around 130 000 ha, and all livestock for production such as sheep are in the process of being removed. This essentially means that around 13 000 ewes are to no longer graze the land. From a long-term scientific viewpoint, this livestock removal presents an ideal opportunity to document the effects of grazing exclusion across a very large area that really has remained understudied in South Africa. Indeed, in time this area could provide critical control or baseline conditions to relate to neighbouring farm management, and so improve commodity production and conservation planning for the biome in general. The SKA site is furthermore set to become a formally protected area, to be managed by SANParks.
Some services to be provided by SAEON to SARAO include:
- Undertaking all biodiversity and ecology walk-throughs for SKA where infrastructure is to be built, to ensure compliance with environmental management targets set out in the Integrated Environmental Management Plan.
- Providing advice to SANParks on preparing a motivation to establish the SKA core area as a formally protected area.
Additional objectives of SAEON as manager of long-term research at SKA include:
- Engaging with the wider science community in South Africa to draw fresh attention to potential research, innovation, and learning in this largely unstudied Karoo environment.
- Conducting and/or coordinating field research experiments on fauna and flora in the SKA area, to improve the knowledge base for the Nama Karoo biome, and to maintain long-term environmental monitoring experiment to collectively assess and address potential land-use or climate change issues.