Source to Sea Programme
Amatola Freshwater Species Conservation Project
To address water security and poverty challenges this project aims to establish natural resource conservation through the generation of a water-linked green-economy in the Amathole region of the Eastern Cape. The two key objectives running concurrently are:
Being a biodiversity hotspot and a high water yield zone, this area is extremely important, from an ecosystem as well as a biodiversity perspective.
A large focus of the project is the removal of alien vegetation from sensitive water source areas which are the lifeblood of numerous river systems within the province. This project serves to secure the valuable water resources of the Amathole while also providing green jobs in the former Ciskei homeland, which suffers from high rates of unemployment. Alien plants affect the soil chemistry and water tables, encroach into grasslands and generally degrade freshwater ecosystems. The Australian black wattle Acacia mearnsii is a major invader and their weak root structure causes them to collapse into streams resulting in clogging, erosion and siltation. Addressing these issues will serve to improve water quality and quantity for the communities reliant on these resources as well as improve ecosystem state for the benefit of threatened species.
A number of other alternative livelihood options such as beekeeping and Population, Health and Environment approaches are being investigated and these will feed into creating healthier, more sustainable communities and ecosystems in the Amatholes’ river catchments. As well as being extremely valuable natural capital in terms of ecosystem services (i.e. the production of clean water) for the large rural population in the area, the affected habitats are also essential for the survival of a number of threatened species.
Five threatened freshwater-dependant species occur within the Amathole. There are two fishes, the Border barb Barbus trevelyani and the Eastern Cape rocky Sandelia bainsii; a damselfly, the Amathole malachite Chlorolestes apricans; and two amphibians, the Amathole toad Vandijkophrynus amatolicus and the Hogsback chirping frog Anhydrophryne rattrayi. The two fish species are proven to be sensitive to degradation of stream habitats and are therefore good indicators of the health of the system. Long term monitoring of these species is therefore an integral part of the project and will serve to validate the positive impacts of conservation actions.
No formal protection is currently afforded to any of these species, despite their imperilment and the importance of the environments they inhabit. This project aims to develop comprehensive long-term conservation plans for each of the species that will guide and coordinate conservation actions and research on the species and the indispensable freshwater habitats they occupy. Key conservation actions include the protection of key habitats and sites using the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme and other stewardship programmes as tools to work with relevant landowners. This is particularly relevant for the Amathole toad, as a significant part of their distribution falls within state forest land where commercial forestry has converted large tracts of their grassland habitat into plantations of Pinus species. It is thought that this had a part to play in the near disappearance of the toad, with only six individuals being found in the last 26 years. The project is currently working closely with the forestry industry in the area to protect and rehabilitate key sites for the Amathole toad through various agreements.
Alien fish species also pose threats to the indigenous fishes of the area and five of the world’s top 100 invasive species, largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides, smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieu, common carp Cyprinus carpio, brown trout Salmo trutta and rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss were introduced into dams in the area through formal stocking programmes dating back to the early 20th century. As a result, predatory alien fishes such as trout and bass have invaded stream habitats, preying upon and decimating the populations of indigenous fishes. The South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity is conducting research on the impacts of alien species on indigenous fauna, including invertebrates, in the Keiskamma Catchment and the AFSCP is working closely with these researchers to utilise their research outputs and implement specific conservation activities identified.
To slow and hopefully reverse the trend of habitat and natural resource degradation, the Endangered Wildlife Trust will be working in partnership with Conservation South Africa (CSA), the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA), Environmental and Rural Solutions (ERS), and the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) to develop effective water catchment management programmes and sustainable alternative livelihood programmes for rural communities in the Amathole catchments.
Nokosinathi Nama: Amathole Freshwater Species Project Officer email