ELP KEEP VER ‘ NUNUS’
“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.”