The river is flowing, albeit gently, and there is a man in the middle of it. Up to his neck in it but cool, calm and collected Alwyn Lubbe is a man gone fishing. He has just plucked a Clanwilliam Sandfish (Labeo seeberi) with his bare hands from the nets strung out across the streaming waters of the Gif river in the Cape Floristic Region, South Africa.
And it is a beautiful specimen soon to be returned once Lubbe and his colleagues have recorded some vital data of this indigenous and Critically Endangered species. Nice work, but catching fish and wading rivers is just a facet of a team’s mission to help protect the precious fish of the region - fish which are hanging on to survival by the “tips of their fins”.
Naturally built for this tough work in rugged terrain with the ups and downs of a varied schedule, Alwyn’s typical day is anything but boring. Steep gorges, treacherous rapids, plunging waterfalls and distinct seasons including hot summers and snowy winters, make for an outdoor office where fieldwork can be challenging to say the least. But the spirit of adventure is tangible following the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) project team around this land of contrasts.
For example, Alwyn might start out with a meeting to discuss water validation methodologies with the governmental Department of Water Affairs. Over tea-break he could be speaking with a farmer to help quantify his water use, by lunchtime when SOS caught up with him, he is mid-stream, catching fish and capturing data. Later this evening he will present a thought-provoking talk on the value of aquatic biodiversity at a local conservation meeting. On a non-typical day however, confides Christy Bragg, project coordinator with EWT and colleague; Alwyn was almost washed away by a raging torrent whilst trying to measure water flow using a boxy Flow Meter instrument.
Collecting the in-stream flow data necessary to inform management decisions on the implementation of the Ecological Reserve (i.e. the flow requirements to sustain ecosystem functions), is an important but evidently risky task, one that must be performed even in winter’s icy torrents. Alwyn’s dedication to the cause is admirable and just what is needed for fieldwork in the region, explains Bragg. For Alwyn, it is just another day at the office, commuting to work in a recently purchased “bakkie” or off-road vehicle. In the evening calm, Alwyn explains, “the real test for the ‘bakkie’ is the next phase: 3 weeks doing fish surveys on the Doring river between Cederberg and Bokkeveld. Basically spending my days working with a team of freshwater fish experts, dragging nets in strong currents, measuring and sampling alien and indigenous fish to see what we can find out”. But the glint in his eye betrays a certain delight with the prospect of getting up to his neck in it once again. Same time tomorrow, different place, same big heart.
The objectives of IUCN member Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Cape Critical Rivers (CCR) Project, funded by SOS - Save Our Species, are focused around implementing conservation actions to protect the highly diverse and endemic fish assemblages of the Cape Floristic Region, an internationally renowned biodiversity hotspot, and to encourage sustainable water resource utilization practices in rivers identified as National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas.
Learn more about fieldwork conducted by Alwyn Lubbe and teh rest of the CCR team on the Doring River in these articles also available online by following the links on the right.