Cape Critical Rivers Project

Zutari helps protect SA’s river ecosystems

Non-native fish were introduced to the rivers of the Western Cape for sporting purposes. These ‘alien’ fish has enhanced the region’s fishing experience for anglers, but has also led to many endemic fish species becoming endangered as they are preyed upon by the introduced varieties.

Zutari worked with a number of inspiring organisations, including the Freshwater Research Centre, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, CapeNature, and the Department of Environment and Nature Conservation (DENC), to help rectify the damage that has been done in these rivers by ensuring that river flows in the Western Cape meet the ecological requirements of our endangered freshwater fish species.

PR-018Artboard 8Cape Critical Rivers Project
PR-018Artboard 8 copyCape Critical Rivers Project

“The Cape Critical Rivers Project will work to correct a mistake that was made many years ago — introducing alien fish into the rivers for sporting purposes,” says Louise Dobinson, Hydrology Specialist at Zutari.

The goal of the Cape Critical Rivers Project is to bridge areas of biodiversity conservation and water resource management in the Olifants-Doring catchment, as well as protect threatened freshwater ecosystems and species in this critical catchment.

The Freshwater Research Centre’s Dr Bruce Paxton, Technical Coordinator to the Cape Critical Rivers Project, comments: “To protect our river ecosystems without compromising agricultural economic activity, we need to find increasingly innovative ways of managing water.”

PR-018 Infographic

A user-friendly monitoring tool to manage river flows

“To protect our river ecosystems without compromising
agricultural economic activity, we need to find increasingly innovative ways of managing water.”

The Cape Critical Rivers Project team collected hydrological flow data for four critical rivers in order to compare flows with the ecological reserve requirements and worked with Zutari specialists to create a user-friendly monitoring tool for managing river flows. The goal of this innovative tool is to implement environmental flows through a simple methodology that can be done by the water users themselves, and secondly, through a method that does not require enforcement, but rather is done voluntarily by water users for their own benefit and to the benefit of the environment.

“Many of the fish in these rivers are vulnerable or critically endangered. Today the local fish are deemed to be good sporting fish, but it’s almost too late because the bass and blue gill sunfish have driven a lot of these species to extinction,” says Dobinson.

Zutari’s monitoring tool measures the flow of water in critical rivers around the Western Cape innovatively, simply and cost-effectively. It predicts the flows needed to maintain fish populations — giving a visual representation of the current water flows and comparing these to what is required by the native species. It also helps farmers to manage their water resources.

The data that the system captures will enable the Cape Critical Rivers to estimate water resources use, ascertain whether the ecological reserve is being met in key catchments – and, if not, work towards the development of best practice guidelines for water conservation or re-allocation measures that will ensure that it will be met in the future.

Winning a biodiversity stewardship award

The project won the 2015 Mail & Guardian Biodiversity Stewardship Award.

“Approximately 10% of Southern African freshwater fish species occur in the relatively small geographical range of the Cape Critical Rivers, making it a global diversity hotspot. The Mail & Guardian Biodiversity Stewardship Award is testament to the value of the work being done to ensure biodiversity conservation and water resource management for the rivers in the Western Cape,” commented Christy Bragg from Cape Critical Rivers.

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*The Aurecon Africa business has been officially renamed Zutari as at 21 July 2020. Zutari acquired Aurecon Middle East on 20 November 2020.
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