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Ballito eco-warrior finds her niche

Sethabile Mbatha focused most of her honours and masters research work on the famine weed.

Ballito ecological specialist Sethabile Mbatha is on a mission to eradicate invasive plant species that threaten the environment and agricultural sector.

From an early age Mbatha travelled the country with her family, basking in the beauty of mountains, oceans and wildlife reserves.

These outings, together with her geography lessons at school, became a catalyst for her passion to protect the environment by becoming an active eco-warrior.

“I made a conscious decision to work in the environment with plants and trees and help make the world a better place,” she said.

The 29-year-old enrolled at the University of KwaZulu-Natal to study environmental health science and graduated in 2017.

She earned her honours degree the following year and completed her masters degree amid the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown in 2020. In 2018 Mbatha was granted an opportunity to work with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

This allowed her to publish two articles about the conservation of the critically endangered Protea Caffra.

“I spent long hours in the field with my mentor, exploring changes in habitats of threatened species. It was during this time that I took the risk of narrowing down my niche and became a specialist,” she said.

Mbatha was involved in ecological research projects that later granted her an opportunity to be among 10 women in STEM fields chosen to enroll in the Women In Science programme in May 2021.

“This opportunity was a highlight in my career as I acquired savanna, ecology and biodiversity data collection and reporting skills.”

While at university, Mbatha focused most of her honours and masters research work on Parthenium hysterophorus, commonly known as famine weed.

“It should be eradicated as it contributes to biodiversity loss and causes allergic dermatitis and asthma in humans,” said Mbatha.

Her passion to conserve the environment also saw her joining Ballito’s Triplo4 Sustainable Solutions last year.

This new role allowed her to practice as an ecological specialist contributing to the effective control of invasive alien plants.

“After five years of gaining practical experience, I still feel this is only the beginning of my journey,” said Mbatha.

She is currently registered as a candidate natural scientist and is awaiting registration as a professional natural scientist with the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions.

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