Website facilitates citizen involvement in tackling Durban’s invasive plants

Submitted by: Robyn McKenzie, Friday, April 10, 2015

<p>Sightings entered appear on a map which also indicates the extent to which the invasion has been addressed. (Image source: www.durbaninvasives.org.za)</p>

Sightings entered appear on a map which also indicates the extent to which the invasion has been addressed. (Image source: www.durbaninvasives.org.za)

eThekwini Municipality in partnership with the Natural Resource Management Programme and the South African National Biodiversity Institute's Invasive Species Programme have created the Durban Invasives website to encourage Durbanites to contribute towards efforts to control the spread of invasive species. The website is funded by eThekwini Municipality and was launched in July 2013.

The Durban Invasives website helps to facilitate citizen involvement by offering a quick and convenient means to report sightings by using Google Maps and uploading photographs. To make it easier for citizens to correctly identify species, the website also provides details and images of target plants that have been identified as invasive. “It eliminates the need to make a phone call and provide explanations of plant locality and species. The mobile site is user-friendly and allows the relevant information to be captured in a matter of minutes,” explained Stephanie Reynolds from eThekwini Municipality’s Restoration Ecology Branch.

The website also aims to create a searchable database of invasive plant species in Durban and surrounding areas. The database categorises each sighting entered to reflect the degree to which the invasion has been addressed.

Sightings entered also appear in a searchable database on the website. (Image source: <a href=www.durbaninvasives.co.za) " src="/sites/default/files/invasivestable.png" style="width: 425px; height: 174px;">

The problem with invasive species

The website explains that while it is important to prevent the introduction of invasive species it is not always possible despite measures taken against them. Once introduced into an environment invasive plants disrupt established ecosystems, occupy space and consume water. This negatively impacts the diversity of the area as indigenous plants are deprived of resources and animals suffer due to possible loss of habitat or food source. Controlling the spread of established and emerging invasive plants is therefore very important.

According to Reynolds, the public do not fully understand the challenge, “Although Durban citizens are aware of the threat that invasive alien species pose, they do not always know the extent to which they can cause damage to life-giving ecosystems, and how costly it is to tackle established invasive species,” says Stephanie Reynolds.

Encouraging public participation

According to the website involving citizens helps to control the spread of invasive species because a larger area can be covered and emerging invasions can be detected faster. Early detection is particularly important because it is a lot more difficult and costly to eradicate invasive plants once they have spread to a large area.

Members of the public are encouraged to register as a “spotter” to allow them immediate access to record their sightings. “Although we have had a hugely positive response to the website, it is more challenging to get the public to sign up as spotters,” said Reynolds. She emphasised the important role that citizens can play in addressing the threat posed by invasive species, “It is important that citizens get engaged in problems that involve the environment because they can be extremely costly, and the depletion of our ecosystems is a serious problem.”

To keep updated with sustainability news subscribe to the fortnightly Urban Earth Newsletter.

Robyn McKenzie