THE CAPE CRITICAL RIVERS PROGRAMME (CCR) is an award-winning initiative that begun in 2012 with a partnership between the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Freshwater Research Centre that aimed at bridging freshwater biodiversity conservation with land and water resource management in the Cape Floristic Region (CFR) in novel ways. In addition to being a biodiversity hotspot the CFR is one of the most productive agricultural areas in South Africa and water is the foundation of the region's economy. Population growth, unsustainable farming practices, over-abstraction of water and climate change pose risks to the unique freshwater ecosystems found in this part of the world.
Through collaborating with our partners CapeNature, the Department of Environment and Nature Conservation, Northern Cape (DENC), University of Cape Town, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Department of Agriculture, Landcare, the Fynbos Fish Trust (FFT), Water User Associations, Municipalities and the Department of Water and Sanitation we develop synergies that tackle complex issues around water resources and freshwater biodiversity conservation. The CCR projects focus on working with communities and land-owners to conserve some of the regions’ most threatened freshwater fish, and promote healthy, free-flowing rivers. The core focal areas of the CCR are:
Conservation – Consolidate extant populations of threatened freshwater fishes and river ecosystems in the CFR
Water Resources – Reduce the risks posed by increasing water demand and unsustainable land management practices in target catchments
Alien Species – Improve knowledge of alien and indigenous fish distribution and spread and identify strategies to ensure landowner cooperation to reduce the risks of further alien fish introductions
Case Studies – Develop case studies to encourage sustainable water management and cooperative water governance in key catchments
Environmental Flows – Monitor and encourage compliance of the Ecological Reserve and Environmental Flows in the targeted catchment areas
Knowledge – Increase knowledge of indigenous fish biology, ecology and conservation
This project is focused on conserving one of South Africa's most iconic and endangered freshwater fishes – the Clanwilliam Sandfish in the Doring River, South Africa. The river and its fish are under extreme pressure from abstraction, climate change and invasive species. Entirely endemic to the Olifants and Doring Rivers, populations are now restricted to the Doring River and the species is headed for extinction if we continue with business as usual.
This project aims to:
- Assess the status of remaining wild sandfish populations;
- Improve our understanding of threats to sandfish and their habitat;
- Implement conservation options to save remaining sandfish populations from further decline and
- Communicate the results to a wide audience
This inspiring conservation effort is centred around a community of landowners involved in 'rescuing' the young fish and creating refugia for them to survive e.g. in farm dams. The way these landowners relate to the river is changing, and we hope that the iconic sandfish and its spawning migrations inspire changes in water use behavior in the catchment.
There is also a strong visual storytelling component to the project and we are using different film-related outputs to reach different target audiences ranging from local land-owners through to the general public.
Partners: CapeNature, EWT, DENC, Gone Outdoor, WFMF, Enjo nature Farm
Funders: National Geographic Society, Mohammed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund
Conserving Freshwater fishes in the upper Riviersonderend Catchment
The upper Riviersonderend catchment is critical from a water supply perspective, because the rivers draining these mountains feed Cape Town’s largest water supply Dam, Theewaterskloof. They also fuel a thriving fruit farming industry in the valley, which creates jobs for thousands of people living in nearby communities like Vyeboom. These rivers are also a hotspot for endemic freshwater species such as the Giant Redfin – a newly-described - species that occurs in only three rivers on the planet. This project aims to build up a picture of aquatic biodiversity, river habitat condition and threats in rivers flowing into the Theewaterskloof Dam.
Importantly, we are designing monitoring protocols to track changes in river health and biodiversity to rehabilitation efforts underway in the catchment, like large-scale clearing of alien pine trees. There is also a community outreach component to the project that involves raising freshwater awareness among multiple stakeholder groups from land-owners to farm workers. This is being approached through citizen science, art installations and local workshops in the valley.
Funders: The Nature Conservancy
Huis-Tradouw River Flow Restoration and Monitoring Project
This project (completed in 2018) aimed to ensure that minimum flows were restored to the Huis River flowing through the town of Barrydale in the Western Cape, South Africa, which supports populations of the Critically Endangered Tradou Redfin without negatively impacting on other water-users. Our research showed that that 100 % of the low flows in the river were being abstracted and that at least 10 % of those flows would need to be re-allocated to the downstream ecosystem in order to restore redfin habitat. As a result of interventions, the municipality retrofitted a release valve on the weir diverting water to the town, allocating some of this water back to the river.
We managed to achieve a significant improvement in the extent and quality of habitat for the Critically Endangered Barrydale Redfin and the freshwater ecosystem on which it depends without negatively impacting water-users. We also succeeded in incorporating sustainability principles into the Barrydale Water Improvement Plan (BWIP) and to improve water efficiency and demand management. Through on-going alien invasive plant clearing in partnership with CapeNature, parts of the catchment have been restored to near-natural condition. The project has provided a successful demonstration model for catalysing interventions in other water-stressed tributaries supporting critical aquatic biodiversity elsewhere.
Partners: CapeNature, EWT, Swellendam Municipality, Rowe-Illiso Joint Venture, Aurecon
Funders: Save Our Species
Supporting sustainable water use in the Koue Bokkeveld
The Olifants and Doring River has the highest proportion of endemic fish species in the country, with eight of the ten species that occur in the mainstem and tributaries of these rivers being endemic. The Koue Bokkeveld region is vital for the integrity of the mainstem of the Doring River – contributing as much as 40% of the flows at the Olifants-Doring Rivers confluence and 26 % of the annual flows at the estuary. Water is central to the agricultural economy of this region. It has one of the highest water yields and is one of the most intensively farmed regions of the Olifants-Doring catchment, having the third highest registered surface water use (20.9%). Irrigation of primarily deciduous fruits for export and vegetables constitutes 98 % of the water use in the area. There is an increasing demand in the area for agricultural expansion. In light of this, it is critical to incorporate the principles of sustainable water management, to ensure that water is allocated sustainably and that downstream users and ecosystems are not unnecessarily compromised.
This project aims:
- To collate and synthesise existing data sources and information relating to impacts of climate change on freshwater ecosystems and their associated biodiversity, including deliberations and discussions of present and future scenarios with stakeholders;
- To proactively assist in developing sustainable water management practices by mobilising and capacitating stakeholders to identify climate change adaptation and resilience strategies through providing practical mechanisms;
- To develop and institutionalise information water management systems, including models for monitoring and feedback, which enhance efficiency, capacity and resilience of the interrelated ecosystems.
Partners: WWF, Department of Agriculture – Landcare, Koubokkeveld Water Users Association
Funders: Hans Hohesein Charitable Trust