College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Discovering What Past Sea Levels Were at Kromme Estuary Focus of Master’s Research

Master’s in Environmental Science candidate Mr Tristan Pillay says he was encouraged by his supervisors to participate in UKZN’s 2021 Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium (PRIS) as they believe it is a good opportunity to get ‘this kind of research out there and communicated’ as well as being a rehearsal for similar events in the future.

Pillay, who completed his BSc Honours in Environmental Science – graduating cum laude – has enjoyed an academic career packed with memorable achievements. He was recognised as an Allan Gray Achiever during the third-year of his BSc, made a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society, and participated in the GreenMatter Fellowship, graduating fully from the programme.

Pillay’s research is focused on paleoenvironments, in particular salt marsh and estuarine environments. The aim of his research is to reconstruct past sea levels of the Kromme Estuary in the Eastern Cape, which can be used as a database of information from which future studies can be built. This involves accumulating sediments – which are thousands of years old – from estuarine environments, which contain valuable microfossils such as foraminifera that can be used as a proxy for past environmental conditions.

As part of his research Pillay collected sediment cores from these sites and did lab analyses on them, including radiocarbon dating (done by labs overseas), organics found in the sediment (stems, wood and seeds), as well as counting and identifying foraminifera along the core. With the data collated, statistical analyses were run to determine past environmental signatures, which were then compared and verified with other studies and dated material.

‘I am motivated by my need to complete my studies successfully and to the highest standard that I am capable of and to assist myself, others and most importantly my family,’ said Pillay.

He is also involved in his community and is a volunteer ambassador for Rise Against Hunger Africa.

To find out more about Pillay’s research as well as other CAES researchers at PRIS 2021, visit

Words: Samantha Ngcongo

Photograph: Supplied