The third in a series of articles celebrating women in science during Women's Month, and forming part of the national commemoration of the Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke, a female trailblazer and icon of South Africa's past.

 

Growing up in a country with a coastline that stretches more than 2 700 kilometres offers numerous career opportunities in the marine sciences. But when you live in Venda, Limpopo, a thousand kilometres from the coast, this can appear as a distant dream.

 

Not so for Fhumulani Ramukhwatho, who holds a BSc in Microbiology and Biochemistry from the University of Venda and a Master's in Environmental Management from UNISA.

 

Fhumulani currently works at the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), where she is responsible for developing policies, strategies and guidelines for the marine and palaeosciences. She also coordinates funding institutions, with the aim of transforming these fields while ensuring that capacity and research development take place, so that innovations continue to be derived from the oceans.

 

Fhumulani's career goal was a challenging one, as none of the colleges or universities in Limpopo offered courses in the marine sciences. Undeterred, and with strengths in maths and science, she studied biochemistry and plotted her journey from there.

 

It was when she began working at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and got involved in a study of algae for a Washington-based company, that she was able to pursue her goal. The study took her to St Helena Bay in the Western Cape, where she spent almost six months and fell in love with the ocean. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

 

By the time Fhumulani joined the DSI in October 2020, she had already ensured that South Africa was represented, through the South African Environmental Observation Network, in the All-Atlantic Blue Schools Network, an educational programme targeting schools in the countries of the Atlantic region.

 

The Blue Schools Network seeks to foster international collaboration to improve marine awareness and literacy, and thereby to create responsible and active citizens that contribute to the sustainability of the Atlantic Ocean. Through the network, learners are motivated to pursue careers in the marine sciences, regardless of whether they live near the coast. Fhumulani believes the programme will become a legacy project that will live on for many generations.

 

Fhumulani's involvement in the programme is in line with her mission to drive youth awareness of the importance of the marine and palaeosciences, and to ensure that historically disadvantaged institutions and schools become involved in these fields. She also plays a key role in a youth ambassadors programme that gives learners opportunities to present their projects at meetings of the All-Atlantic Ocean Research Forum.

 

Fhumulani urges youngsters not to give up on maths and science, as these are the subjects that will open doors for them after school. There are many extra-mural support initiatives in maths and science, she says, and the next generation should take full advantage of such opportunities. If they do this, and if they are prepared to put in the work, they will find that their dreams are achievable.