NaDEET an Educational Sanctuary in the Namib Sea of Sand 2013

NaDEET an Educational Sanctuary in the Namib Sea of Sand 2013

All over the world there are organisations, individuals and projects promoting a sustainable future for all, investing into the lives of both the young and old alike with a common message that the future is in our hands and that we have the choice in shaping it by our daily actions.

A few years ago I read an article about the Namib Desert Environmental Trust or better known as NaDEET. With great thanks and excitement I set off to Namib Desert to join the NaDEET team for one of their Environmental Education and Sustainability Camps. What made this opportunity even more special was the fact that 2013 was the year in which NaDEET was celebrating 10 years of Environmental Education.

So I guess to start this journey off I should try and explain to you where NaDEET is. Well the environmental education center is tucked away behind the beautiful sea of red sand dunes within the heart of the Namib Rand Nature Reserve 25.237398S 16.063356E.

The Namib Rand

This is considered to be one of the largest private nature reserves in Southern Africa extending over 202,200 ha. The area covered by the Namib Rand in the Southern Namib helps protect and conserve the unique ecology and wildlife of the South-west Namib Desert as well as facilitating seasonal migration of wildlife within the area.

This reserve was originally established in 1982 and registered as a non-profit private nature reserve in 1992, with of the reserves main aims being to protect sensitive and fragile environments, to facilitate seasonal migratory routes and to promote sustainable utilisation.

NaDEET sign

So tucked away behind a red sand dune within this 202,200 ha expanse are a few wooden buildings with shade cloth windows and lights covered with tins to deflect light down ward away from the sky. On arriving at the office you are met with spinning windmill generating electricity and solar panels displaying their brilliance for all to see. The office is a dedication to NaDEET with paintings on the walls promoting sustainability and the beauty of the Namib Rand, with the elusive barking gekko portrayed alongside the red sand dunes of the Namib.

NaDEET office block

On leaving the office you make your way towards the Education Center, on my arrival the students had already taken up residence within the accommodation areas and were getting ready for some activities.

NaDEET education center

The idea behind NaDEET is not only to teach Environmental Education and sustainability but to also be an example of these core values in every possible way. The center boasts with a 100% green footprint, using solar energy and natural processes to complete daily and essential tasks. This mission is carried across to the students with great enthusiasm and the sustainable use of water and solar generated electricity is made into a competition for all to participate and compete in.

NaDEET class room and outdoor class room

So I have been considering different ways to try and share my experienced at NaDEET with you. To tell you the truth, putting pen to paper about this project simply uplifts my soul and excites me to the extent that I no longer know what to write so I will describe a few activities which I was able to participate in to you and hopefully through my descriptions, images and film you can understand the magic one experiences at NaDEET.

Meal times

As mentioned before all activities are managed using solar power or as close to 100% recycled methods as possible. So to cook a meal for a room full of students and facilitators using only the sun, could be a daunting task for any young person. Solar cookers are positioned outside on the cooking deck. These cookers use the sun’s rays captured by the reflective dome around them and concentrated onto the pot or kettle. Almost like a magnifying glass and some of the ports have proof that these cookers can burn holes into them.

NaDEET solar cooking

Once cooked, the meals need to stay warm and unlike a conventional home there is no microwave or stove to re-heat meals. Out here the meals keep themselves warm whilst placed in a “Hot Box”.

These rather simplistic items do their job well by trapping the heat released by the warm pots and keeping the meals warm as they are closed within the wooden box and insulation.

Sun light is not always available within the desert and the week I spent within the desert was mostly overcast and rainy. When the weather does not allow for solar cooking, specially made braai or fire brickets are used to make fire.

These brickets are made from strips of old paper and newspaper, wet and pressed together into the form of a bricket. These are a very effective fuel source for fire.

NaDEET hot box and recycled braai

The Electricity

The entire education facility is run off of solar power. The roof of the information building is made fully or solar panels, these panels charge a room of batteries which in turn power the education center.

All the lights in the center and accommodation blocks are covered by tins or “lamp shades” directing light down ward and away from the windows and the outside night sky, effectively reducing light pollution drastically.

NaDEET solar power

This is not only essential from an esthetical perspective for Namib Rand and its various nocturnal species, but also due to the reserves status as an International Dark Sky Reserve.

International Dark Sky Reserve

Founded in 1988 the International Dark Sky Association was the first organisation to call attention to the hazards of light pollution. They promote one simple idea “light what you need, when you need it”

Recent studies show that light pollution is growing at a rate of 4% faster than population growth. For many this might seem like an irrelevant fact, however, when one comes to think of it wildlife is greatly effected; sea turtles use the moon light to navigate to beaches, lions use moon light to enhance their night vision and birds often fly into buildings at night as groups are confused by building lights.

Together with UNESCO Starlight Reserves have been established around the world. One of which can be found at NaDEET in the Namib Rand. These reserves are specially proclaimed with regards to the levels of light pollution or light present in the night sky. In May 2012 the Namib Rand Reserve and NaDEET were awarded a “gold” tier level, which is the darkest and strictest available category.

This has been a major development for Africa as Namib Rand, NaDEET is the first reserve location in Africa to receive an International Dark Sky Status and it is also the first of any developing nations to receive this status.

Unfortunately the night before arriving at NaDEET someone had kicked my tripod over and broken my sigma 8-16mm Night Sky Lens. However throughout my stay there was constant cloud cover so no stars could be seen or photographs taken any way. Hopefully next time I can get some night sky photographs and Time Lapse images in this Dark Sky reserve the only one its kind on the African Continent.

Education

Over and above the breath taking setting NaDEET has education at its core, the students are taken on a nature walk through the sand dunes where facilitators explain everything to them from fauna to flora, tracking and weather.

NaDEET desert walk

Students are each given an “its time to identify” book published by NaDEET aimed at “promoting sustainable land management through biodiversity investigation” These hand books explain all aspects of the desert to the students and are later used to answer questions in class.

One of the most interesting facts I learned while on the nature walk was that some of the sand deposited on the Namibian west coast and in the “Sea of Sand” originates from Lesotho, within the mountainous highlands of South Africa. The sand is washed along the Orange River until it eventually enters the Atlantic Ocean at the town of Alexander Bay on our west coast. From here it is taken north by the prevailing current and eventually deposited along the Namibian west coast.

Over and above the educational walk students are taught some scientific sampling methods, when it comes to catching desert insects and small mammals.

NaDEETpit fall traps

NaDEET shirman traps

Pitfall and Sherman traps are set up on the crest of a nearby dune under the supervision of NaDEET staff. The aim is to leave the traps overnight and inspect them the next morning. With great anticipation the following day students wait around after breakfast to be able to go and fetch the content of their traps.

On returning to the classroom the “it’s time to identify” books are put to good use as boys and girls alike squirm and squeal at the content of their pitfall traps.

Everything from Armoured ground Crickets (Bradyporidae), Waxy Darkling Beetle (Onymacris rugatipennis albotessallata), Vinegar Beetle (Thermophilum spp) to Namaqua Chameleon (chamaeleo namaquensis) and striped mouse (rhabdomys pumilio).

NaDEET insects caught

NaDEET and the Namib Rand is something I, as a conservationist, feel immensely privileged to have been able to see in my life time, though none of this means anything if the message is not taken home. This is something that the NaDEET staff pride them in.

The Challenge

From day one the students are given a challenge to use water and electricity sustainably. Every morning after breakfast, the staff and students measure each group’s water use from the specially marked geysers and bucket showers. The solar water heaters are measured to determine the amount for hot water used and the main camp batteries are read to determine the camps electricity consumption. Even the activities such as cooking and cleaning water consumption are recorded so as to develop an overall foot print for the camp/center.

After day two the students begin to realise that some groups are using less water than others and the competition really begins.  Despite the competitive nature of the education around reducing ones carbon footprint and being environmentally sustainable especially water conscious. The long term challenge for the students was to go home and try to live as similarly as possible to how they live at NaDEET especially to not waste any water.

NaDEET carbon footprint

So this has been the legacy set over the past 10 years by Viktoria Keding and the NaDEET staff, truly “practicing what they teach” and education over 7000 participants since 2003. Not only has the center provided participants with the opportunity to experience the beauty of the Namib Desert in a way few of us ever will,  it has promoted sustainability, an awareness for the natural environment and the ethos of the “3R’s” reduce/reuse/recycle.

Over and above the development of a world class Desert Education facility situated in an International Dark-Sky Reserve, NaDEET has also established various environmental literacy projects with their partners. These publications are specifically aimed at promoting and facilitating environmental and sustainable education topics such as “”solar cooking, how to and recipe book” a “practical guide to sustainable household in rural Namibia” and “practical identification guide to the Namib”.

The NaDEET center has truly effected change both in Namibia and within those who visit and hear about the center.

For more information please follow the links below:

NaDEET Facebook

NaDEET website

E4k YouTube clip on NaDEET

 

As for me I would personally like to thank the Namib Rand and NaDEET team for the permission and privilege to access the conservation and environmental education facility. Your hospitality has been greatly appreciated and we hope to meet up again tin the near future.

NaDEET Amazing Sunset vs2

 

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