Carmel Mbizvo of CSIR Natural Resources and the Environment.
Carmel Mbizvo, ecosystems and marine manager at the CSIR, is passionate about ensuring that endangered ecosystems are conserved. Ecosystems can play a critical role in improving people’s lives.
Often the deterioration of nature is a direct result of what humans do, and how their actions affect nature. The effects are known as anthropogenic - the way humans and their actions can negatively affect nature.
As the debate around nature conservation becomes more rigorous, Mbizvo rallies her researchers to come up with cutting edge research that can improve the quality of life of people.
Mbizvo’s research teams investigate the link between human action and the decay of nature. Though Mbizvo does not work as a researcher - but as a manager - she says her job involves creating an enabling environment for researchers to do their work efficiently. She says southern Africa, particularly South Africa, is rich in biodiversity and natural resources and conservation thereof is essential.
And this is Mbizvo’s speciality. With her background strongly rooted in anthropology, the ecosystems manager knows how important it is to conserve nature, and consequently human lives.
Mbizvo started working for the CSIR in 2005 and has been involved in conservation for more than 15 years, most of which she spent helping to devise policies for the conservation and development of the environment. She worked as a regional environmental policy programme coordinator for the World Conservation Union before moving to the Southern African Regional Poverty Network. There she worked as a consultant.
Mbizvo’s researchers conduct world-class, directed, inter-disciplinary research and technology innovation in the field of ecosystems management to contribute to the socio-economic and environmental improvement in South Africa and Africa.
The inter-disciplinary research focuses on coastal systems, ocean systems and climate, earth observation, ecosystems processes and dynamics, biodiversity and ecosystems services as well as ecophysiology.
The purpose of her research area is to have the scientific understanding of the functioning and linkages between human and ecological systems across the terrestrial, aquatic and marine domains and their responses to anthropogenic and natural change.
This is done to ensure the uniqueness and conservation of ecological systems.
“It is challenging to connect social and ecological perspectives because these are so different, one deals with people while the other deals with nature,” says Mbizvo.
Mbizvo has an MSc in sociology/social anthropology. But she says it was fate that got her into environmental conservation.
“I have always drifted to conservation because I am passionate about development, so that passion pushed me into conservation,” she says.
She says coming from a social sciences background, she is passionate about taking a trans-disciplinary approach to the research work that is conducted.
“This means I do not only look at the environment but take a broad approach and look at other disciplines that may influence the ecosystem, like economics and sociology.
Mbizvo says she is ardent about real research, the kind that solves problems.
“I want research that is guided by real life, not by the mere fact of research. There is no point in conducting research studies when all that will happen is that the research will sit on a shelf,” she says.
Mbizvo says research informs policy making and policy planning - helping policy makers come up with effective decisions about things that will shape society.
“It has been both challenging and interesting to manage such a large group that has as diverse disciplines as this one. It is an interesting job because it deals with all the aspects of an ecosystem,” she says.
For the 15 years that she stayed in conservation Mbizvo had an opportunity to refine her policy management. “I love the science and policy interface, particularly how we can increase the impact of research by bridging the gap between the two,” she says.
She adds that she always encourages her scientists to find innovative research projects that can impact on society. “My role as leader of science is to create the space for our researchers to be innovative and engage with science, to grow and develop,” says the mother of a 16-year-old daughter.
And, just to make sure she remains in the thick of things, Mbizvo digs deeper into her conservation skills by gardening. “You will always find me messing around in my garden on weekends, or reading,” she concludes.
Kamogelo Seekoei, email: KSeekoei@csir.co.za