VCU South African Summits to Sea explores connections between freshwater biodiversity and society
January 23, 2018
Students in Dr. James Vonesh’s VCU study abroad class rang in the 2018 new year hiking to the source of the Tugela River below the Mont-aux-Sources high in the Drakensberg mountains of KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Reaching the Tugela source involved a strenuous hike and scaling a series of chain ladders to gain the top of the Drakensburg escarpment, but rewarded the class with outstanding views of the Tugela Falls which plunge nearly a kilometer over the Drakensburg Amphitheater escarpment and are one of the highest falls in the world.
The course – South African Summits to Sea: Watershed-scale Perspective on the Human and Natural History of KawZulu-Natal – focused on major river watersheds of the KwaZulu-Natal Province, specifically the Tugela and Pongola rivers. Students explored the relationships between freshwater resources, biodiversity, and South African history and modern society as they followed gravity and the flow of water from the peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains to the marine protected areas of Kosi Bay.
Field work, hiking, rafting and kayaking, with primary accommodations being tents, were part of student life as they began the journey in Johannesburg and made their way to the rivers.
The class partnered with African Insights Academy, a company that tailors programs for a unique education experience showcasing the diversity of ecosystems in South Africa. The video below, produced by African Insights, highlights some of the students’ hike through the Drakensberg.