• Amazing images show alien trees being wiped out in Cape Town, to make space for natural vegetation.
  • A data scientist is using the imagery to give researchers long term data, something SA lacks. 
  • He has captured more incredible environmental transformations - from dams refilling to disappearing forests.

Using satellite images, Glenn Moncrieff, a data scientist at the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), captured this mind-blowing 10-year transformation as alien trees were removed to make way for critically endangered sand fynbos.

The images come from project Fynbos Node, which monitors fynbos rehabilitation in the Western Cape. 

The Cape Floral Region, one of six declared floral kingdoms in the world, contains almost 9,000 plant species, and of these, two-thirds are found nowhere else.

See also: This map of South Africa's rivers is captivating – and now its creator is trying to figure out why

Using a programme called Planet, Moncrieff can access satellite imagery going as far back as 2009 to give scientists reliable long- term data for their research.

“Planet’s satellite data has a great way of helping people visualise the impact of humans on the environment. It goes deeper for scientists. The satellites capture information we can’t see, like infrared, which as a scientist can help us tell how healthily a forest is, or unhealthy,” he says.

SAEON is body established by the Department of Science and Technology to conduct long term observation and promote an informed and timely response to global change.

“Science has been grappling for years with translating information into something the public can relate to," says Moncrieff. But now we have the tools to get people interested in our work. Once you have the interest, you can get people to start listening to the insights, and then get people to know about your research. That’s what we are trying to do here.”

Here are some more incredible environmental transformations Moncrieff has captured:

The Kareedam, which supplies Calvinia, running dry and filling up again.

The multiyear drought in the south-west of Africa has affected more towns than just Cape Town. This two-year time lapse shows  the dam running dry in two consecutive summers.


Two years of illegal sand mining on the banks of the Umgeni river, KwaZulu-Natal.

Communities downstream face increasing flood risk due to the removal of sand. Hundreds of these mines can be spotted along rivers in rural KZN.


The Elandsfontein phosphate mine next door to the West Coast National Park, within a critical biodiversity area.

Mining has stalled since 2017 following a court challenge. The mine hopes to restart operations in 2019.


Dune forest clearing, near Richards Bay, for titanium mining.

Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) clears dune forests to mine titanium in a global biodiversity hotspot. While intensive restoration of deforested areas is undertaken, many species will never return.


The evolution of the MeerKAT satellite project in the Karoo

The MeerKAT is a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

See also: New, mesmerising drone footage shows just how big SA’s new R4 billion radio telescope is

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