Climate expo drawing the crowds
Durban - At the Climate Change Response Expo in Durban, you can drink a Whistling Weasel, or watch a man whip up a tornado at the flick of a switch.
You can also talk to scientists about Gizmo, the new all-South-African pencil buoy, while clutching a replica of the collar bone of a really ancient Australopithecine.
The expo, located next to the Durban Convention Centre, venue for the COP 17 climate change summit, was bustling with people on Thursday morning, despite the oppressive heat and humidity.
"This is like February weather," says Karen Owen, who manages a stall serving beer and wine in the expo’s food court.
The beer - brewed up-province at Nottingham Road - is good, but the names on the bottles are better.
You can order a Whistling Weasel pale ale, a Tiddly Toad light lager, a Pye-Eyed Possum pilsner or a Pickled Pig porter.
Twenty metres away, Alex Kofer is talking to whoever will listen about his "Wizzard" worms. He has 20 000 of them, in a large pool table-sized tray.
Despite their numbers, the worms are difficult to see. They are hidden under a mound of soggy newspaper, cardboard and lettuce leaves, which Kofer has fed them to encourage further production of the compost they create.
"They can eat their own body weight in a day," he says proudly, hauling out a wriggling worm for inspection.
Eat wet cardboard
Kofer says the worms eat "kitchen waste and wet cardboard" and take about four months to produce a tray full of compost.
In a large tent on the far side of the expo, SA Weather Service meteorologist Hugh van Niekerk demonstrates how to make a small tornado.
He does it in a glass chamber the size of a fridge. By creating water vapour and then blowing in some air, to simulate a wind, while at the same time switching on an extractor fan in the chamber ceiling, he causes a mini twister to appear.
It spirals around the chamber until Van Niekerk switches it off. The model is used, he says, to demonstrate at schools.
At the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research stand next door, there is a glass case containing a section from the trunk of a 1 200-year-old baobab tree.
It was found in the Pafuri area near the top end of the Kruger National Park.
According to an attached notice, isotopes in its growth rings have been analysed and the data used by scientists to gain an insight into the climate change (that) has happened during the tree’s growth span.
On the other side of the CSIR stand is Gizmo, a yellow and black pencil buoy.
About 3m high, it has a light on top and is solar powered.
Leave for six months
Marine scientist Sumaiya Arabi says it is a prototype and a wholly South African invention. What makes it special is its low-cost, light weight design.
"It logs data such as temperature, wind speed, currents and algae blooms," she says.
Within the same tent, Dirk Muller, of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, is showing off a fish farm in a container.
"It’s solar powered, has its own battery bank and is mobile and secure," he says, adding that the "farm" could be set up anywhere.
There is space in the container for 360 tanks.
Those managing it simply insert a small tilapia fingerling into each tank and five to six months later take out a 250g to 300g dinner-plate size fish.
"Tastes just like hake," says Muller.
In an exhibition tent on the other side of the expo, Lindsey Smith, an expert in environment law for the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in Gauteng, is standing next to a life-size model of an Austalopithecine.
The model is female, naked and less than a metre high.
Next to it are two glass-topped cases containing casts of the almost two million year old Pleistocence hominid fossils discovered by world-renowned palaeo-anthropologist Lee Berger about three years ago.
Australopithecus sediba - have proved a major draw card.
"We didn’t anticipate such huge interest in the fossils. We thought the focus would be on the heritage site and the threat from acid mine drainage," says Smith.
On her desk there are a row of small Cradle of Humankind gift packets, each containing a small cast of the collar bone from one of the skeletons.
Close by, the international conservation organisation WWF has a stall.
The woman behind the counter, a former journalist, is handing out pencils made from newspaper, each bearing the iconic panda logo.
"Have one - they show there is a future for the newspaper industry," she tells me with a smile.