CSIR scientists who have been instrumental in the compilation of the Atlas of Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas, have trained 250 stakeholders who are directly involved with aspects of water management and conservation on the use of the atlas and its associated products. This dedicated effort to transfer knowledge to maximise the impact of the work undertaken over a three-year period follows the launch of the atlas by the Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi, on 14 November.
Dr Jeanne Nel, CSIR principal scientist and colleague Ashton Maherry, a geographic information system expert presented two sessions in Cape Town, one in Kwazulu-Natal and two in Pretoria. The training sessions were supported financially by the Department of Environmental Affairs, while the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) hosted the sessions in Cape Town and Pretoria and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife hosted the session in Durban.
“The feedback has been amazing,” says Nel. “Attendees were extremely complimentary on the packaging of the research outputs, as well as the extent of documentation shared. They felt that this sharing of data is a noteworthy contribution in managing the country’s freshwater ecosystems. The vast majority of attendees stayed until the end to learn how the data could be used in the GIS viewer on the DVD and also live online, on SANBI’s website.”
The maps show rivers, wetlands and estuaries around the country that should remain healthy to sustain the country’s water resources and conserve the rich diversity of freshwater ecosystems. It is hoped that it will increasingly be used as the single, nationally consistent information source for use by planners and decision-makers.
Nel says most of the interest in using the freshwater ecosystem priority area maps centred on strategic planning processes. “In this context, the maps are used as the proactive planning tool that they were designed for. Non-governmental organisations use them when constructing strategies and business plans on where their particular programme should invest, as do governmental initiatives such as Working for Water and Working for Wetlands. Provincial planners in Mpumalanga have confirmed that they will adopt these maps as their departure point in the development of their next provincial biodiversity plan and are encouraging the Free State to do the same. Both provincial leads in this matter attended the training sessions. In addition, the scientists responsible for the Limpopo provincial biodiversity plan also attended the training.”
She says a relatively new target audience captured by the training sessions was environmental impact assessment practitioners, who will use the maps in their assessment of impacts on proposed development applications.
“The participation of so many EIA practitioners is very exciting because it signals the capturing of a group of champions that can affect local decision-making processes - and going forward, securing freshwater ecosystem priority areas is going to depend on local-level action,” she says.
Nel says the Pretoria session particularly surfaced interest in the use of the maps in the policy processes of the Department of Water Affairs, such as classification of water resources and setting and monitoring of resource quality objectives.
A theme running through all training sessions was that participants needed to act as champions for the freshwater ecosystem priority areas and spread the word in meetings they attend that affect freshwater ecosystems. There was broad agreement that they would do this.