Growing up in Port Shepstone on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, Nasreen Peer, 25, learned to read between the rocks.

It was here that she first discovered the teeming diversity of life and beauty hidden in ordinary rock pools. This childhood fascination has stayed with her and inspires her research into ecological systems.

She even discovered a remarkable new crab species living in ephemeral pans – which sometimes have water and sometimes don’t – at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a huge World Heritage Site on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

She won the 2015 National Research Foundation’s Research Excellence Award, enabling her to work at iSimangaliso, previously known as the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park – a highly prestigious achievement.

She now focuses on the crabs in the St Lucia ecosystem to help fight climate change. Crabs are particularly vulnerable to environmental changes, and by studying their feeding habits and life stages, Peer will get insight into the health of the environment.

They may not be as high-profile as penguins or dolphins, but crabs are a vital link between terrestrial and aquatic, marine and fresh water environments.

Even small changes in their numbers and behaviour can provide important data in the fight against global warming.

Find Peer on Twitter: @nasreenpeer