Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPOSTER -

“This al­lows the miniSASS tool to act as a ‘red flag’ in­di­ca­tor of the con­di­tion of rivers, iden­ti­fy­ing hot spots and where fur­ther, more de­tailed fol­low-up or in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the con­di­tion or wa­ter qual­ity of a river is re­quired.”

To con­duct a test, all you need is a net, a white con­tainer such as an ice cream box, a pen­cil, a mag­ni­fy­ing glass, shoes or gum­boots, hand­wash or soap, a score­sheet and a macroin­ver­te­brate and in­ver­te­brate iden­ti­fi­ca­tion guide. The last two can be down­loaded from www.minisass.org

Once the in­sects have been caught and iden­ti­fied, their in­di­vid­ual sen­si­tiv­ity score al­lows an in­di­ca­tion of the health of the site.

“The higher the score, the more sen­si­tive they are.”

Once to­talled, the score is loaded on to the map and an au­to­mat­i­cally coloured crab ap­pears at the site sam­pled – blue for a spot on a river in nat­u­ral con­di­tion, green for one in good con­di­tion, yel­low for one in fair con­di­tion, red for one in poor con­di­tion and pur­ple for one in very poor con­di­tion.

Sur­pris­ing in­for­ma­tion has cropped up along the way.

En­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion­ist Louine Booth­way re­calls see­ing a stone­fly nymph, which is highly sen­si­tive to even mildly pol­luted wa­ter.

It was not far up­stream from a stretch of river in KwaZulu-Natal be­tween Mpophomeni town­ship and Mid­mar Dam, which is so pol­luted cit­i­zen sci­en­tists wear gum­boots and gloves to avoid any con­tact with the wa­ter.

Hav­ing up-to-date in­for­ma­tion is cru­cial in a place like the Um­geni River catch­ment area, where the health of the wa­ter is un­der enor­mous pres­sure from poor sewage sys­tems and high nu­tri­ent loads from agri­cul­ture.

It’s a huge threat to the area’s en­vi­ron­men­tal in­fra­struc­ture – na­ture’s abil­ity to pro­vide ser­vices for hu­mans – par­tic­u­larly as dams such as Mid­mar face a se­ri­ous threat.

Gra­ham says look­ing af­ter the en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­log­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture was a far cheaper op­tion.

“More and more of our wa­ter re­sources are fast be­com­ing pol­luted and are dis­ap­pear­ing due to the de­mands placed on them by the mod­ern world. This clearly lim­its the op­por­tu­nity for kids to sim­ply mess about in rivers.

“Th­ese missed op­por­tu­ni­ties fur­ther dis­tance us as a so­ci­ety from the source of life’s most vi­tal nat­u­ral re­source – wa­ter.”

Close to his heart are the words of green ac­tivist, farmer and politi­cian Wan­gari Maathai from her No­bel Peace Prize ac­cep­tance speech: “I re­flect on my childhood ex­pe­ri­ence when I would visit a stream next to our home to fetch wa­ter for my mother. I would drink wa­ter straight from the stream. Play­ing among the ar­row­root leaves, I tried in vain to pick up the strands of frogs’ eggs, be­liev­ing they were beads. But ev­ery time I put my lit­tle fin­gers un­der them they would break.

“Later I saw thou­sands of tad­poles: black, en­er­getic and wrig­gling through the clear wa­ter against the back­ground of the brown earth. This is the world I in­her­ited from my par­ents.

“To­day, over 50 years later, the stream has dried up, women walk long dis­tances for wa­ter, which is not al­ways clean, and chil­dren will never know what they have lost.”

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