MiniSASS - An exciting new development in river conservation.
The miniSASS Website is now live and aims to take river watching to a new level. River health data (including your local urban streams) can be contributed by all in a fun and easy way, and with the results visible for the rest of the world to see.
GroundTruth, in partnership with WESSA, and through seed funding from the Water Research Commission, have developed the new miniSASS website and database, which has now gone live. The website provides a dedicated home for the miniSASS community river health biomonitoring tool, to promote its use and to serve the miniSASS user community by providing a central hub for river health data, supporting materials, instruction, and news of the latest activities that have taken place.
The most important feature of the new website is the interactive Google Earth map and database, which allows miniSASS users of all ages to explore their catchment, find their river and then upload their miniSASS results. In this way it is anticipated that a public-access, interactive map of river health across Southern Africa will develop, with results continuously contributed by users as citizen science. Users can explore all results, compare and contrast river health across catchments and in relation to land use activities, while connecting with others who are sampling rivers in their community.
Reasons for the changes in river health over space and time can be explored based on the land uses and other activities that can be observed on the interactive Google Earth/satellite maps, supplemented by local knowledge. Communities can use the information and knowledge to illustrate the condition of their rivers, and investigate pollution sources. Land users such as farmers or industries can monitor and self-regulate the impact of their activities on the surrounding river environment. The more data the better, as communities and even authorities can look at trends, changes and potential pollution sources and solutions. Pollution hot spot areas will be able to be identified as the miniSASS results provide a “red” flag indicator on river health conditions.
An example of this is the 2012 uMngeni River Walk, where a team from the Dusi Umgeni Conservation Trust (DUCT) collected miniSASS samples along the entire length of the uMngeni River.
The results show the generally healthy condition of the catchment in its upper reaches, with deterioration around urbanised settlements and below major dams. The collection of miniSASS data during the walk is a perfect illustration of citizen science, where a group of volunteers with no formal training in the aquatic sciences undertook a source-to-sea assessment of the river health condition of the uMngeni River. Annual replication of this initiative and expansion to other rivers nationally, provides great potential to monitor and highlight issues affecting our rivers in Southern Africa.