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Young water ambassadors use miniSASS to monitor river health
In May 2015, plant ecologist Sue Milton-Dean of the Renu-Karoo Veld Restoration Project and the author, Juan Swanepoel visited the learners of Albert College in Prince Albert to give them a brief introduction to the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) and the miniSASS programme, a simple tool which can be used by citizen scientists to monitor river health.
The learners were very keen to participate and eager to begin, so it was arranged that a pilot run be conducted the following day. The learners were so enthusiastic that they completed a proper miniSASS survey in a single day as opposed to a mere introductory pilot run!
Collection of macro-invertebrate samples started at Eerstewater, an undisturbed southern part of the Dorps River. Next, macro-invertebrates were collected from a pool at Waterkop, the middle section of what was once the Dorps River. Waterkop represents a habitat that has undergone enrichment by agricultural runoff from the adjacent olive plantations.
Finally, macro-invertebrates were collected from the sewage spill that runs where a tributary of Dorps River used to be, at the Renu Karoo Nursery adjacent to the Wolwekraal Nature Reserve. Here, sampling was conducted at three different sites, the first being the closest to the origin of the spill, where most eutrophication occurs. The second site, just north of the first, has clearer water as a result of filtering by dense Phragmites communis stands. The third site further north has clearer water yet, as a result of secondary filtering through P. communis stands.
These sites represent a great learning tool, demonstrating the trade-off between biodiversity and productivity, a theme that will be carried forward as the programme progresses so that seasonal changes can be recorded throughout the year. This will hopefully inspire learners to take an interest in environmental issues and illustrate the importance of long-term observation.
The learners who showed interest and have signed up for the programme range from grade 6 to grade 11.
Juan Swanepoel, Research Intern, SAEON Arid Lands Node