CNC2019: Cape Town - Thanks

CNC2019: Cape Town - Thanks

City Nature Challenge 2019: Cape Town Awards Ceremony
Dr Tony Rebelo, South African National Biodiversity Institute
10 June 2019, Cape Town City Hall, 18:30

Well done Cape Town!

It is my pleasure to give thanks to everyone who took part in our challenge. To some degree Charmaine has said everything already in her synthesis talk, and the prize-giving has already awarded many of the participants.
Anyone else could have given thanks, but let me bring in a background angle to the thanks.

Late last year I was not sure that Cape Town should participate. But everyone I spoke to about it was enthusiastic. However, how on earth could we - a relatively new group to iNaturalist - be able to avoid embarrassment. But with everyone keen, I needed to see if the the main potential players felt the same way. As it was already past the deadline, so I approached the organizers and asked for an extension. But Julia Wood of the City of Cape Town’s Biodiversity Management Branch, Environmental Management Department and Gavin Bell of Table Mountain National Park were on leave, so I needed to get a further extension to after school holidays.

At the January meeting with Julia were Cliff Dorse and Leighan Mossop. As I was firing up my computer, Julia told me to put it away. "We dont need that. We are doing this - where do we start!"
And that is how Julia never found out that we were going to attempt was impossible: - to achieve in four days what Cape Town had not managed in five years. To be among the winners we would need 50 000 observations. Not a chance!
Two issues were resolved at that meeting. Firstly, all City staff would take part and all cities reserves will be open to everyone for the Challenge. And secondly, due to data costs and line speeds, Julia would try and get the City Libraries to allow use of their Wifi for people to upload.
There was one catch though. The two staff who would be available to run the challenge would only start work in February and would need two weeks induction, but then it would be all systems go.

So I registered us for the City Nature Challenge ...

And that is how Charmaine Oxtoby and Eleanor Hutchings were thrown in the deep end. And they were magnificent. With their interns Aamirah and Celeste they organized the libraries, made sure that librarians knew what to expect, and organized posters advertizing the challenge, and primed CTEET, designed posters, got permissions and a myriad other things, including social media. Leighan trained reserve managers and rangers in using iNat, organized and planned camera traps and bat recorders and other things. Julia convinced other city departments to participate, including the City Planning Department, and Alderman Nieuwoudt decided that the challenge would be a great team-building opportunity for her section (what an inspirational idea!), despite the fact that it was the week before the election. The Library and Information Services and Recreation and Parks Departments deserve special mention for embracing the challenge.
And that is how the dream team pulled it off. I still dont know how they did it. But in a few weeks they had the entire City excited and active with the challenge.
Three cheers to the dream team!
(obviously, organizing City Nature Challenges is hazardous to one's health, and we hope Eleanor gets well soon.)

The other team was Ismail Ebrahim, Gigi Laidler and Megan Smith of CREW. The Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers were our secret weapon. For the past 16 years they have been mapping, monitoring, tracking down and identifying the threatened and common plants within the cities nature reserves, natural places and open spaces. They can find and identify plants without flowers, and even without leaves: just what we need for a competition at the wrong time of the year. They are worth 2000 species at least (at night in a thunderstorm: twice as much under ideal conditions). Gigi gave dozens of iNaturalist courses, aimed at basics - even for those CREW members who had never used a cell phone, or knew where the on button on their computers was. Megan, who only started in April, coordinated and publicised the events and put them on Facebook and the media. And with Ismail they organized, motivated, encouraged and did whatever it took to get CREW going.
And going they went. Not only did they hunt down all the rare and devious species, but they did a marvellous job and identifying them after they were loaded. We could not have got half our species without them. Well done CREW

The weekend after meeting with Julia, was the WESSA (Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa) Friends of Nature Reserves biannual meeting. I requested a five minute slot to promote the event. At the meeting I was quite good and invited everyone to participate, and set out our goals - 50 000 observations, 3500 species and 2000 observers, in just over four minutes. But then the chair got quite excited and spoke about it for over 10 minutes, and that was followed by much discussion and suggestions which saw my five minute slot exceed half an hour. And that was when I first wondered if we might perhaps be able to actually do it: that we might even have a fighting chance. Could we pull it off?
And of course WESSA were fantastic. With reserves managers (and CREW) they organized bioblitzes, events, activities, hunts and parties in most of our nature reserves. Over 50 events across the city. One of the highlights of the CNC was the Constantia Greenbelt Picnic organized by Snotrosie (Caitlin von Witt - appropriately her iNat name means Sundew) at the Mandala, which contributed over 700 observations.

Other organizations entered the fray: Two Oceans organized a Waterfront hunt, and the Herpetological Society set up traps and organized excursions to try and track down many of our still dormant frogs and snakes. The Cape Bird Club - like our migratory birds - had organized an event to the north in the Cedarberg for the weekend and vowed to make up for it on the weekdays. The Mountain Club, Kaput, Two Oceans, Kirstenbosch and CTEET all encouraged schools to participate.

Thank you everyone for being so enthusiastic!

I must make special mention of the Scouts. Trying to figure out how to get our observer numbers up, I approached Nigel Forshaw about getting the Scouts involved. He approached the powers that make such decisions and nothing happened for a few weeks. Then out of the blue came the response that it was a fantastic opportunity and snugly in line with Scout programme, and they would roll it out across the country. Whoa! I had to point out that the Challenge was just Cape Town, so we could not do it nationally. No problem came the almost instant reply: we will trial it in Cape Town in 2019, but then do it nationally in 2020! So there is the challenge. I hope Joberg and Durbs (and Bloem) are paying attention: you better be there in 2020.
And the Scouts were amazing. They collected 8.3% - lets just round it up - almost 10% of all our data. What a magnificent achievement. Let us have a round of applause for Scouts South Africa.
Some 110 Scouts contributed over 10 observations and thus get the City Nature Challenge activity badge.

The third committee was Georgina Jones (Seastung). I should have remembered about the sea. But it is so long since I was at university, I had forgotten. It was only while exploring how to get our species numbers up, and I looked at the species previously recorded (see here!) that I discovered that a Seaslug (the Gasflame Nudibranch) was the second most recorded organism on iNaturlist in Cape Town. But far more than that - out of the top 15 plants and animals on iNaturalist in Cape Town, two were Seaslugs, three were fish, three were Starfish, and two were corals. With the Penguin, this meant that 11 out of the top 15 species were marine! Not surprizing with the warm Agulhas Current clashing with the cold Benguella off Cape Point, and a third player - the temperate relicts from when Africa was further south - meaning that we have three marine realms meeting in Cape Town. So like the Cape Flora, our marine area is also exceptionally diverse and exciting. Just for example, have a look at our Seaslugs - - what an amazing group of animals - right under our noses!
But what was surprizing was just how active our merpeople had been in Cape Town - they were really showing us landubbers up. I asked Georgina if the divers might be interested in the challenge, and she replied - "Dont worry, leave it to me - we will be there. All the diving and underwater clubs - False Bay Underwater Club, Learn to Dive Today, Cape Town Dive Centre and others. We will organize dives and events and prizes. And dont worry about species. With over 1000 marine species in False Bay, we will get you your species."
And they did. With over 500 marine species contributing to our species tally.
A big round of applause for our merpeople please.

I must just take a moment here to especially mention Margo and George Branch. They organized a beach hunt at Dalebrook on the last day of the challenge (let us hope next year it will be a spring, rather than neap, tide), and participated in the identification parties held at Kirstenbosch. Their enthusiasm, willingness to share, energy and dedication are awe inspiraing. No wonder our local marine fauna is so well understood.

We tried to provide a bit of focus for the challenge with some projects.
Thanks to all the schools who took part in the Schools Challenge. Very well done. Our school grounds provide an opportunity to help preserve our biodiversity and it is fantastic to see schools participating in the adventure.
The Ant Atlas was fun too and well supported. With Peter Slingsby giving immediate identifications it was particularly rewarding. Please dont stop contributing - just the other day Flippie recorded an epic battle involving the invasive Argentinian Ants in Welgemoed. The Amazons might be at war in your garden - why not document it?
The Polyphagous Shothole Borer Project was a disappointment. This beetle has invaded Cape Town - and was recorded in Somerset West the week before the City Nature Challenge. Perhaps people did not appreciate that the absence of the beetle is good news and should be documented - and can be on iNaturalist. Under the worst-case scenario this beetle will wipe out our Cities trees within 10 years. Not all, but all our Oaks, Planes, Poplars, Liquidambers and many other susceptible trees. This is just nature redressing an imbalance. But by slowing down the Beetle invasion we can plant PSHB-resistant trees and let them grow, and not have to be treeless for a decade or two. This is a serious problem, and ignoring it is not a solution. So dont be part of the problem, help us by reporting the spread of this beetle. So check your trees every quarter, and submit in the records of the healthy trees. Report any attacks the moment you notice them! That is how we will solve the problem and keep our green lungs by allowing replacement trees to grow and continue their role of greening the mother city.
The National Freshwater Group also played around with getting Citizen Scientists to help with our wetland evaluations. They are excited by the results and hope to pursue it further soon.

Thank you too to all those who spent sleepless nights helping to identify our animals, plants and fungi. It was magnificent. CREW featured prominently, and it was amazing to see people active who one would never have imagined on a computer. And many people unable to get out to photograph, helped extensively with IDs. But not just Capetonians joined in: our beetles were identified in from Gaberone, Pretoria and Northwest, our bugs from Bloemfontein and Lichens from Europe. Whereas only people in Cape Town could contribute data to the Challenge, anyone could help with IDs. And they did!
A special thanks to staff of the Compton Herbarium at Kirstenbosch who spent their Friday helping especially with the daisy identifications.
A million thanks - I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

We did not intend to have prizes. The CIty decided to have small prizes to incentivise some staff. There were even some fun bets being placed on who would be on the leaderboard at the end. But it soon got out of hand. Everyone wanted to contribute and did so generously. CapeNature and City of Cape Town each contributed a weekend away in one of their nature reserves. The Cape Town Big Six tourism contributed tours to Robbin Island, the Cable Car, Cape Point (and the Funicular), and lunch at Groot Constantia. Struik Books, Botanical Society of South Africa and others contributed numerous book prizes. The diving prizes (free launches, guiding and air) were particularly notable.

And of course we need to thank the weather. It was perfect! Just one day of rain and we could not have achieved this! Although many would have preferred the rain!

Thank you Cape Town. We won!

Well done and thank you to everyone who participated! Those who ran courses and workshops. Those who organized events, especially CREW and WESSA Friends Groups. Those who planned and arranged everything! Those who helped with identifications. Those who have made tonight possible.

Thank you Cape Town.
We showed the world that we are the Mother City for Biodiversity, the Capital City for BIodiversity, the most Biodiverse City on Earth.
Yes we beat our nearest rivals by 7000 observations - come on: clap!
But the really amazing thing is that we beat our nearest rivals by 1000 species. I hope you have given sufficient thought to what this means! Not only are we the most diverse city, but we are far more diverse than we ever guessed. Only 45 out of the 150 cities participating even got to 1000 species! And we outperformed our nearest rivals by 1000 species. That is a quarter more species than anyone else! This spectacular diversity, comes with a spectacular responsibility: only we can preserve these species. We are the custodians of this diversity. It is our job to look after it!
Yes we won the challenge. But we need to appreciate the responsibility that comes with being the most biodiverse city on earth.

There are two last groups that I would like to thank!

Firstly. the organizers of the event. Alison Young and Lila Higgins supported by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and the California Academy of Sciences, for organizing the event. It is the coolest event on earth!
And the iNaturalist team at the California Academy of Sciences (sponsored by National Geographic) who kept the show on the road, without any serious glitches, and with hardly even a dip when America woke up. Did you know that at peak periods up to 7 people were uploading several megabytes per second?! Can you imagine that in South Africa? SARS or Home Affairs handling that many? -- let us not even go there.
Thank you guys: you rock!
And the cell phone app! It is the coolest thing ever! Imagine trying to participate in an event like this without it!
Three cheers for iNaturalist!

And lastly, I should like to thank the other participants in the 2019 City Nature Challenge.

It was amazing throughout the event to know that there were thousands of other citizens throughout the world going around exploring and celebrating their biodiversity. The day before we started (while we were chewing our nails and wondering if we should have got involved) we watched as the event started and Christchurch jumped onto the leaderboard. (lucky buggers: at least they can say that for a time they were the leading city in the City Nature Challenge). And then Hong Kong came on stream and raised the bar several notches (can we match that?). And then it was our turn. Except we had no time to monitor progress: we were all running around finding, recording, organizing, explaining and coordinating. And then uploading. A lo and behold, we got to the top of the leaderboard!!! After midnight when America started to come online we were still well on top (but one has to go to bed: there are still three more days of the challenge ahead). And in the morning when only Hawaii was still active, we were still on top. We can do it!! Who is the competition? Where on earth is La Paz? (here - their challenge and wiki)
And I think that did it. Once we were on top, we were inspired to stay there and everything came together! And when the observations were over. Did the other cities have lots of data to still upload? Would we be usurped? But we also had observations still to upload, so it made no difference. We were clearly in front!
And through the identifications parties, would we maintain our species lead. We had to weed out all the wrong IDs made by the artificial intelligence to American species: would that mean that we would lose our lead, and our species numbers go down? But it turned out that the misIDs were not that drastic, and our lead increased as the harder to identify and rarer species recorded were detected and identified.
And we won. But the winning was only significant because of everyone worldwide participating. The buzz of the challenge was seeing what other citizens were recording in their cities. For four days we were united worldwide in an exhilarating adventure - discovering and recording the biodiversity in our cities. Over 35000 people celebrating life in our cities.

So it is official. We are the Mother City of Biodiversity. The most biodiverse city on the planet. What is astounding is just how much richer than anyone else. I dont think we quite yet appreciate this. I dont think the rest of the world has recovered from the surprize.
So the issue is simple. To everyone who participated in the City Nature Challenge you now have a quest. You owe it to yourself to visit the Mother City and come and see our biodiversity for yourself. You are most welcome.
Only please do not even contemplate coming in our late autumn. It is the worst possible time of the year to see biodiversity. Darwin visited the Cape during this season and was singularly unimpressed: everything was bleak and burned. Had Charles visited in spring, he would not have become a recluse to The Downs: assuming he ever went home, he would have returned to the Cape year after year. And the Galapagos would probably have been a footnote in history.
In spring, there is nothing else like it on Earth! You should not need an invitation - you owe it to yourself to visit the Mother City and see it firsthand for yourself.

And to everyone else on Earth: we know you are interested, even though you did not participate directly in the Challenge. When Bacardi - the alpha male of the Helderberg Valley - joined the challenge, we heard the world gasp. You are welcome to visit Cape Town too.
Did you know that DNA data is suggesting that humankind went through a major bottleneck 70 000 years ago? That mankind was reduced to a small population of perhaps less than 1000 individuals? It is hard to believe that in this overpopulated world, a little while ago we were staring extinction in the face. And what saved us? Who rescued humanity? Archeological evidence suggests that we survived along the southern coast of Africa: in a small area of the Agulhas coast from Cape Town to the Garden Route. And we survived because of the biodiversity, biodiversity, biodiversity. The rich flora with its bulb and food plants. The large animals that roamed the now submerged plains in numbers rivalling Serengeti. And the rich marine resources along the shores. During the time when Africa became inhospitable, it was the biodiversity of Cape Town that mothered us through the hard times. And when the climate warmed up, we recovered and spread throughout the world. From the Indians of Patagonia, to the Amerindians, the Asians who rule the world, the Europeans who used to rule the world, and the Americans who think they rule the world, and Africa with its diverse tribes, we are all brothers and sisters, at most 2000 times removed. Archaeologist also have the first records of make up and jewellery - was Cape Town also the dawn of our civilization - of our humanity?
So you owe it to yourself. At least once in your lifetime you should make the pilgrimage to your Mother City. Our Mother City. Humanity's Mother City. To come back to your very roots and visit the city that succoured our survival.
We need you! We need your help in conserving our biodiversity. It saved us! Now it is your turn to return the favour and help us to save our biodiversity! We are also the. Global Hotspot for Biodiversity: we have more species threatened with extinction than any other city on Earth. Come and see it for yourself and help us preserve this extraordinary corner of our world.

Cape Town: we rocked them!

Yes we will be there in 2020!! Save the dates: it will either be the April 24-27 or May 1-4 - to coincide with the 25th Anniversary of Earth Day. So start practising and see you there!!

Posted by tonyrebelo tonyrebelo, June 11, 2019 14:42



Thank YOU Tony! Because the underlying success of the event started and was carried along by your skills, enthusiasm and determination.
For myself I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed working on the CNC and am resolved that the merpeople will do much better in 2020 -- Gareth, Laura (Cape Town Dive Centre) and I were laying plans of how to improve inputs -- for starters we need to be here.... and we're planning night dives and a more strategic coverage of places we know have particular species. So... that will be better. Provided sea conditions play the game! And possibly the Cape Town Dive Festival could be arranged to coincide with the challenge and we could get all those entrants to participate.... Thanks for next year's provisional dates!
so.. yes. thanks for the certificate and for your appreciation of my setting up the divers-- I must say it was really my pleasure and easy to do -- plus... I think we merpeople can do better. and we will!
But really you know, the fact that we did so well is in fact because of you and your amazing work on this. well done and thank you! It was a proper jol.
all the best

Posted by seastung 13 days ago (Flag)

Kudos, Tony. Without you we would not have been a starter. You have done well. We were unlucky with the season but lucky with the weather. That is possibly less true for marine, I don't even know which time of year is best for marine biodiversity, but it would take exceptional luck to get good diving on both sides of the peninsula on the same weekend as the competition. Getting the dive festival to run over the same weekend could push numbers up. That is well worth trying to arrange. We could look into getting some expansion of field guides for some of the less known taxa. Wayne, Melissa, Toufiek, Mark, maybe a few others. Maybe by then I will also have optical fibre connection, they are due to start digging up our pavements this month.
Also we merpeople dont have the advantage of the app. No signal underwater, even if the phones were waterproof.
There are a few rules I would like to see clarified too, like what constitutes a valid observation. There were a few iffy obs that I remember.
Borders of Cape Town for the competition. There may have been some issues there. What is in and what is not? Technically Cape Town extends as far as the high water mark, but I assume the competition borders go a bit further offshore, and there are anomalous situations where the City manages Helderberg MPA although it is mostly not technically in the city. Do we need to improve the shape files?
The Prince Edward Islands (Marion I and Prince Edward I) are technically part of Cape Town for some administrative purposes if I remember correctly. Could we find out if anyone will be there at the right time, and if they could contribute? It is unlikely to make a serious difference to the result, and their internet is likely to be sub-optimal, but would be a bit of a hoot to have a few observations from the southern ocean.

Posted by pbsouthwood 13 days ago (Flag)

Thanks @pbsouthwood
I think adding Marion and Prince Edward will be really unfair. It will potentially add a large number of bird species.
Cape Town was taken as the municipal area plus 2km offshore. As is shown in the polygon on this project page. A few dive sites that we thought were in, turned out to be 2.1km out and were thus excluded. Robben Island and Seal Island are in (and 2km around them). We did identify Bird Tours to the Canyon as an omission that we wanted to plug, but we did not push that.
We will be having a troubleshooting session soon, so if you can think of anything, please tell us.
Two big issues that affected us:
1. Autumn vs Spring - the data collected and projects useful to reserve managers would be far superior in spring.
2. Planted vs Wild - planted stuff goes out of the "Needs ID" queue - and 99% of our urban parkland species are planted. These aliens are important for conserving our animal species. Plus plantings of indigenous species (e.g. waterwise gardening, conserving species) fall into this category. Making these observations as "not research grade" is sending the wrong message.
3. As mentioned: we expected the AI to throw in hundreds of Californian' species IDs, but surprizingly that was not really an issue. Hopefully, by the next CNC the AI will be trained on our species and be more useful.

Posted by tonyrebelo 13 days ago (Flag)

How many bird species at a quess? 30? Half a dozen sea mammals. Not really much in the vertebrate section. Even plants are not likely to be very diverse, but marine invertebrates and seaweeds could be really interesting.
I take it we still need shapes for the MPAs (not necessarily relevant to the competition, but needed for MPAs generally).
Is the 2km offshore a standard allowance
How did you/they get the 2km offshore line on the shape? is it a rough eyeball estimate or reasonably accurate? The MPA borders would be way easier as straight lines with legally defined positions
Californian species were a bit of a hassle in marine. Common names really should be localised.

Posted by pbsouthwood 13 days ago (Flag)

for the common names, I think for marine the merpeople need to get onto updating common names for all possible species because when people do know the name they know the common name so when the AI suggests a name with luck it'll say (SAfr) after it an dthat will help.
I also think training sessions will help.. and getting people to take photos of one species....
and we need a better protocol for ID sessions afterwards. For an expert, ID is trivial time wise, but as soon as you have to look stuff up the pace slows dramatically. Which is why I think we need to have a tiered system where generalists classify to group and the groups get farmed out to the experts...

Posted by seastung 12 days ago (Flag)

@seastung -
You did not attend the ID parties. That is what we were doing. Perhaps we should have special ones for the marine community?
See here:
1. the start:
2. changes in strategy as we got to milestones:
and 3 .we are still not finished:

Posted by tonyrebelo 12 days ago (Flag)

I couldn't attend the ID parties -- I was significantly hampered in that by not being here due to previous commitments. But yes, I do think we should have specific marine ones. With marine generalists if such people can be found.. and I go back to my previous comment about the photos -- some photos for example were labelled with a (common) fish name and the initial ID sweep classified for (say) a seaweed, which may have been the main organism in the image but wasn't the photographer's intent. In other examples, the initial sweep identified a sponge (our sponges are generally undescribed so this is not useful from a species count perspective) and ignored the sea slug in the centre of the image.
Other images had several species in the image and were uploaded unidentified -- I think if we can get people to rather take obvious images of one thing that will help. I am happy to repeat my preparation lecture for divers and possibly we got get someone to do a rock pool/shore preparation series/lecture?
If as Peter suggests, we can get updated field guides from the experts we have that would be amazing.

Posted by seastung 11 days ago (Flag)

Focal species: if the photographer does not specify the object of the observation, then any species is game. This is not an exclusively marine issue: for plants it is often the case as well. Where the species is specified (even at family level) or where additional or cropped photographs are included, this helps a lot. If a taxon name cannot be given, then a brief note in description will help. One cannot expect identifiers to intuit a photographers intent. And one cannot expect the generalists doing the initial sweep to detect a rare and exciting find amongst several more obvious or charismatic species.
And a few checks on ones observations to check on progress would also help. For instance, if a "wrong" organism was identified, a Duplication of the observation and a brief note would be ideal.
Update field guides: We can update names on iNaturalist. In theory, you can use any field guide since the 1960s and iNat will automatically give you the current name. Furthermore, we can load new species in the interim, allowing identifiers to use the "identotron" as a field guide while checking. iNat is already superior** to most of our field guides, although I dont know about in the marine realm. e.g. (2O = Two Oceans)
SeaSpiders: iNat= 2, 2O = 3, RSA = ~ 110 spp see here
Barnacles: iNat= 19, 2O = 15, RSA = ~ 70 spp see here
Urchins: iNat= 14, 2O = 16, RSA = ~ 25 spp see here
Limpets: iNat= 18, 2O = 23, RSA = ~ 20 spp see here
Seaslugs: iNat= 185, 2O = 50, RSA = ~ 250 spp see here
Butterflyfish: iNat= 22, 2O = 15, RSA = ~ 20 spp see here
** both in terms of species featured, but also the multiple images for many species.
But we could hunt down the missing more common species and load them into iNaturalist in preparation for the next CNC.

Posted by tonyrebelo 11 days ago (Flag)

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