Lerato Molekoa root out alien plants to save our water

Masters student Lerato Molekoa eliminates invasive plant species.
Masters student Lerato Molekoa eliminates invasive plant species.
Image: DARRYL HAMMOND

Lerato Molekoa of Soweto is in a battle of the wills with invasive plant species that steal our water.

The 24-year-old MSc student at Wits University said her research focussed on identifying salt cedar shrubs, an alien species posing danger to the county's dwindling water supply.

"These plants suck up a lot of water, which is very bad for our region. They especially like to grow around rivers and begin to overpopulate which is dangerous to our native plants," she said.

To identify such alien plants, Molekoa studies high-resolution images from satellites.

"Without this type of work there would be less water. Our ecosystem would eventually collapse because it would not be able to support the entire population."

Molekoa said there were different methods used to combat the infestation, such as physically removing or chemically killing the plants.

"The problem with these methods is that chemicals are bad for the environment and chopping off the plants will increase the risk of spreading the seeds."

She has collaborated with other scientists to control the spread of these plants.

"We are using insects from foreign countries to feed on the plants."

Molekoa said they test the insects to ensure that they would not be dangerous to native plants that need to be protected. Alien plants can still be used in controlled methods that were beneficial to the environment.

She said mines used certain plants to absorb bad minerals from the soil.

The young scientist said she wished more young people were concerned about the environment.

"Although we are taught about how important it is to take care of the environment, from my experience the youth do not care much about the environment."

Molekoa added that protecting the environment now was important to securing the livelihood of future generations.

The Sowetan newspaper took Youth Day literally and challenged its young journalists by giving them charge of the Youth Day edition of the paper. Look over their shoulder to see what it took to put the paper together.

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