Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPOSTER - DUN­CAN GUY

BUGS can tell sci­en­tists and au­thor­i­ties a lot about the health of a stretch of run­ning wa­ter in rivers and dams.

But sci­en­tists can’t keep tabs on ev­ery “nunu” along South Africa’s 17 700km of rivers and streams – and this is where you come in.

Or­di­nary peo­ple can be­come cit­i­zen sci­en­tists by head­ing down to their lo­cal body of wa­ter, kit­ted out with equip­ment in­clud­ing a net and a score­card.

Once they’re done, they load their find­ings on to a com­puter, giv­ing in­for­ma­tion to sci­en­tists like Mark Gra­ham, who works with the en­vi­ron­men­tal com­pany called GroundTruth in Hil­ton, KwaZulu-Natal.

There’s a lot more than meets the eye in the dif­fer­ent “nunus”, which may in­clude flat worms, crabs, shrimps, worms, snails, bugs, bee­tles and var­i­ous flies.

“Dif­fer­ent macroin­ver­te­brates (‘nunus’, or small aquatic in­sects) have dif­fer­ent sen­si­tiv­i­ties to pol­lu­tion,” says aquatic ecol­o­gist Gra­ham.

This means a count of whichever macroin­ver­te­brates are found at any spot, and a tally of their “sen­si­tiv­ity scores”, can eval­u­ate the health of a stretch of wa­ter.

Gra­ham ac­cesses a map on his com­puter on which each of South Africa’s 26 000 schools is marked.

“A re­cent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the po­si­tion­ing of all schools shows that, not sur­pris­ingly, most ma­jor rivers in the coun­try have a host of schools in close prox­im­ity,” he says.

“If all the schools in the coun­try were to sim­ply mon­i­tor a river within a 5km ra­dius of them­selves, 80 per­cent of the ap­prox­i­mately 17 700km of river in South Africa could be cov­ered by this mon­i­tor­ing net­work.”

Gra­ham be­lieves cit­i­zen sci­en­tists mon­i­tor­ing rivers of­fer an op­por­tu­nity “to trans­form how we look at and man­age our wa­ter

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