In South Africa freshwater resources remain uncertain in both quantity and quality, increasing the need to monitor freshwater biodiversity in priority areas for its conservation, and to increase data access that will influence policy and investment decision making regarding the country’s freshwater ecosystems.

The National Biodiversity Assessment, released by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) in 2019, revealed that freshwater ecosystems are the most threatened and least protected ecosystems in South Africa. Approximately 88% of wetland area is threatened and less than 2% of their extent is Well Protected.

A new data pipeline for SA’s wetlands and waterbirds

Freshwater resources and wetlands of southern Africa are of international importance as they provide a host of ecological services. SANBI is leading a consortium of research institutions on a new biodiversity data pipeline project nicknamed the ‘BIRDIE Project’. This project aims to develop a wetlands and waterbirds data-to-decision pipeline that will use state-of-the art statistical tools to extract policy-relevant information from key data. This information will be of use to decision makers in an online dashboard that will automate the production of important indicators.

Important data about wetland birds, when combined with crucial information like water quality or the threat status of a wetland, can start to provide excellent indicators of freshwater biodiversity that can inform decision making about wetland rehabilitation or protection efforts.

Public participation platforms to shape science

The project will leverage two bird-related datasets: the Coordinated Waterbird Counts (CWAC) and Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP). These data will be combined with other important informant layers (e.g. wetland threat status from the National Biodiversity Assessment and site data such as water quality) to create comprehensive data packages that feed the pipeline.

The Coordinated Waterbird Counts (CWAC) and Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP) are citizen science-based freshwater bird monitoring datasets housed at the University of Cape Town, wherein birders across the country submit their observations of birds to these platforms, thereby contributing to some of South Africa’s longest-living biodiversity datasets.

These datasets, where bird counts and data have been recorded over long timeframes, supply scientists with fascinating information about changes in species population sizes, migratory patterns, distribution ranges and more.

A focus for the next few years will be to develop a citizen science network to help with monitoring depression (pan) wetlands across the country – and interested citizens should contact the SANBI Freshwater Biodiversity Programme.

For more information on the project please visit South African National Biodiversity Institute (2020) – JRS Biodiversity Foundation or contact Project Principal Investigator Nancy Job

More about the BIRDIE Project

The BIRDIE Project is led by SANBI’s Freshwater Biodiversity Programme, with partners from the University of Cape Town, Sol Plaatje University, Seascape Belgium and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. The JRS Biodiversity Foundation has provided funding for a three-year project, which began on 1 September 2020.

JRS Biodiversity

To contribute to the citizen science platforms underpinning this project:


Coordinated Waterbird Counts 

Image: Flamingoes on Kamfers Dam wetland, Kimberley © Doug Harebottle

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