The goal of this small team is to create a strategically focused and sustainable Freshwater Biodiversity Programme nested within SANBI, play a leadership and coordination role within the freshwater biodiversity community of practice, build a core of relevant competence, and conduct freshwater ecosystem research in collaboration with partners, to achieve SANBI’s freshwater biodiversity mandate.

What we do

The Freshwater Biodiversity Programme:

  • operates at the nexus between freshwater science, policy and implementation and plays an integrative role in answering key policy and mandate questions
  • has a ‘neutral status’ which allows it to convene, coordinate, facilitate and synthesise
  • monitors and reports on the state of national freshwater biodiversity and provides knowledge and information in an accessible form to researchers, planners, decision-makers and the general public
  • applies a catchment approach to co-operative governance, wetland prioritisation, rehabilitation and management, and understanding drivers and functions of freshwater ecosystem types and causes of degradation
  • is rendered effective through a wide range of academic, government, non-governmental organisation and private sector partnerships which are all integral to the achievements and reach of this programme of work

Selected current projects

The Freshwater Biodiversity Programme currently has 12 active projects, shares students and collaborative research with 8 academic institutions, as well as multiple other stakeholder partnerships. The FBP contributes to the Wetlands Data Acquisition and Management (W-DAM) project led by the Department of Water and Sanitation as part of the NWRMS, implements several actions identified in the National Wetland Management Framework, and is taking forward phase 2 of South Africa’s National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas project, together with DWS and multiple partners.

National Wetland Map

The National Wetland Map has been recognised as one of the layers critical to meet the biodiversity reporting and planning needs of South Africa and, therefore, in 2019, SANBI was formally appointed as National Wetland Base Dataset Coordinator under the SASDI Act (54 of 2003). The Freshwater Biodiversity Programme has the responsibility to manage updates of this dataset (National Wetland Map) and make it widely accessible. Our goal is to work with the key wetland data set custodians across South Africa to jointly produce a common National Wetland Map.

National Wetland Map further reading:

Classification System for Wetlands and other Aquatic Ecosystems in South Africa Ollis et al. 2013

A Genetic Geomorphic Classification System for Southern African Palustrine Wetlands: Global Implications for the Management of Wetlands in Drylands Grenfell et al. 2019

Guidelines for mapping wetlands in South Africa Job et al. 2018

National Wetland Map 5: An improved spatial extent and representation of inland aquatic and estuarine ecosystems in South Africa Van Deventer et al. 2020

Prediction of Wetland Hydrogeomorphic Type Using Morphometrics and Landscape Characteristics Rivers-Moore et al. 2020

A Multi-Scale, Participatory Approach to Developing a Protected Area Wetland Inventory in South Africa Job et al. 2020

For more information:

South African Inventory of Inland Aquatic Ecosystems (SAIIAE)

SAIIAE alternate GoogleDrive site

National Biodiversity Assessment 2018

National Wetland Map custodians and key contributors:

  • Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
  • Free State Department of Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism & Environmental Affairs
  • Provincial conservation agencies (CapeNature; Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism; Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife;  Free State Department: Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs; Gauteng Department: Agriculture and Rural Development; Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism: Environment and Tourism; Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency; North West Department: Agriculture and Rural Development; Dept Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, Rural Development and Land Reform)
  • South African National Parks
  • University of KwaZulu Natal
  • Department of Water and Sanitation
  • EcoPulse Consulting
  • Institute for Natural Resources

South Africa Biodiversity Data Pipeline for Wetlands and Waterbirds (BIRDIE)

With funding support from the JRS Biodiversity Foundation, this project is automating statistical workflows and data visualisations to develop a biodiversity data-to-decision pipeline which automates the production of indicators and displays these outputs on a user-driven web platform. The project is leveraging two citizen science-based datasets, the Coordinated Waterbird Counts (CWAC) project and the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP), with outputs tested with national stakeholders, as well as managers at pilot sites, including a site with Kenyan partners.

For more information:

SANBI BIRDIE Project webpage

JRS BIRDIE Project webpage

BIRDIE multi-institutional team

Freshwater Biodiversity Information System (FBIS)

Led by the Freshwater Research Centre and funded by the JRS Biodiversity Foundation, SANBI Freshwater Biodiversity Programme is partnering on this web-based tool which facilitates access to freshwater biotic and abiotic data on South African rivers and wetlands, and to existing freshwater biodiversity data across a range of taxa and taxonomic levels. Such information is critical to establish baselines and patterns of change, which are, in turn, necessary to help predict the impacts of future changes to the region’s biodiversity and ecosystem services.

For more information:

Other freshwater ecosystem projects

The Freshwater Biodiversity Programme is leading, and partnering with other researchers, on a wide range of additional projects spanning wetland ecosystem type characterisation research; status and trends of priority wetlands; setting priorities for SA’s freshwater ecosystems (rivers, wetlands, estuaries and freshwater species) to provide evidence-based advice to decision makers as part of the National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (NFEPA) project update; research on wetland rehabilitation; amd applying hydropedology and other emerging research to develop catchment and ecosystem process understanding.


  • Rhodes University
  • University of Stellenbosch
  • University of the Western Cape
  • Endangered Wildlife Trust
  • DFFE NRM: Working for Wetlands Programme
  • GroundTruth Consulting cc
  • Institute for Natural Resources

Ecological Infrastructure for Water Security

The SANBI Freshwater Biodiversity Programme contributes to the mapping and characterisation of hydrological ecological infrastructure (riparian functional zones, key catchment recharge areas, rivers and wetlands) for this GEF 6-funded project, led by SANBI’s Ecological Infrastructure Programme.

For more information:

SANBI Natural Capital Accounting project

SANBI Ecological Infrastructure for Water Security Project 

Freshwater Ecosystem Network

SANBI Ecological Infrastructure Programme, SANBI Freshwater Biodiversity Programme and the Department of Water and Sanitation partner in convening the FEN. Established in 2014, the FEN aims to build and promote a community of practice for freshwater ecosystem conservation and management in South Africa. Knowledge-sharing and the stimulation and support of collaborative efforts are some of the benefits of the network.

For more information: 

Freshwater Biodiversity Programme Team

Freshwater Programme Lead: Nancy Job

Freshwater Scientist: Adwoa Awuah

Freshwater Intern: Pumla Dlamini

The Freshwater Biodiversity Programme in 2019, from left to right: Raven Pietersen (WWF Intern), Nancy Job (Senior Scientist), Kenwinn Weiner (PhD, associated NRF project), Shanice Mohanlal (MSc), Adwoa Awuah (Scientist), Shae-Lynn Sampson (MSc), Faeeza Fortune (PhD Wrench scholar), Faith Mohanlal (MSc), Damin Walters (UKZN Postdoc).

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