Dr Melissa Boonzaaier-Davids obtained her PhD in Biodiversity and Conservation Biology at the University of the Western Cape. During her doctoral studies, based at the Iziko South African Museum (ISAM) as an assistant curator in the marine invertebrate collection, she became very knowledgeable and passionate about bryozoans. Her PhD thesis focussed on the taxonomy and distribution patterns of South African marine bryozoans using previously undetermined bryozoan material in the museum collection. Through this research, several new species have been discovered so far. Furthermore, extensive research has yet to be done across all disciplines of bryozoans (freshwater and marine) in South Africa, particularly in molecular systematics and phylogeography. For those reasons, she is particularly interested in contributing to the growing information on bryozoans for molecular systematics and phylogeography in South Africa. Dr Boonzaaier-Davids is currently an assistant curator at ISAM.

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Night Owl

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?


3 Do you have any pets?

An 11-year old German Shepherd ‘pup’ called Rocky and his two 6-year old cat siblings, Peanut and Shenzi.

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?


5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?


6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?


7 Do you speak any other languages?

My mother tongue is Afrikaans (one of 12 official languages in South Africa).

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

I don’t know – I’ve always wanted to be a marine biologist since I was 7 years old! Maybe a field and culture guide.

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?


10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?


11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

Slowing down time

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Prof Yuval Noah Harari

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

I would go for a hike then some wine tasting, and end it off with watching a docuseries at home.

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

Laptop, family, hiking

15 What beverage gives you life?


16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

“Walvisse en Dolfyne” by Terrence Wise (1980) (English translation “Whales and Dolphins”)

17 What did you want to be when you grew up?

A mermaid

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

Family and nature

19 What got you excited in science?

There are many reason what got me excited in science. I have been inquisitive for my entire life and it is exciting to learn how biology works and discovering new things.

20 What excites you about science now?

Science is ever changing and it is everywhere. I also think more people are realising how important the science/environment is to us and interested to learn more. I am passionate about communicating science to students and the public, especially our youth.

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Singing along to the music in my car and binge-watching documentaries on social history.

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

Amateur belly dancer

23 What is your favorite game?


24 What is the last book you read?

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

Just keep going, no matter how slow you go.

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

Sky diving

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

Continue to follow your heart and make as many memories. Create a list of things you want to achieve and work on making it happen.

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

Hiking and socialising

29 What is the last thing you watched?

A South African travel TV show called “Elders” by Erns Grundling (English translation “Elsewhere”)

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

An 8-year old ticket from a live performance show I attended – also the first date my (now) husband and I went on.

31 What is your favorite animal?

Ooooh – too many to choose from! On land, I love owls – they are fascinating birds. In the sea, amongst my favourite animals are whales.

32 What is your favorite book?

Roald Dahl books

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Nachos and a South African ‘vetkoek’ (English translation “fat cake”) with a cheese and jam filling.

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

The first day of Spring in South Africa (1 September) – also our wedding anniversary.

35 What is your favorite plant?

Orchids, even though I sometimes struggle to keep them alive!

36 What is your favorite science fact?

Less than five per cent of the planet’s oceans have been explored.

37 What is your favorite season?


38 What is your favorite smell?

Petrichor (the unique, earthy smell associated with rain)

39 What is your favorite sound?

Bird sounds

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

My favorite thing about myself is that I am passionate in whatever I do whether it is studies, my job, my friendships and family relationships. I forgive easily and do not hold grudges, but I also know my worth and surround myself with people that brings out the best in me.

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?

“Avontuurlustig” literally means “lust for adventure” (English translation “Adventurous”)

42 What is your proudest moment?

Naming two species new to marine science after my father and grandmother.

43 What kind of tree would you be?


44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

The different cultures, unique environment (nature) and awesome food! We produce some of the best wines and can also boast with having the longest wine route in the world (Italy is second)!

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

I am actually a bit of a shy person, but have a good public speaking persona (most of the times at least!).

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

Dr Blanca Figuerola (@BlancaFiguerola)