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