Arm in Arm – Linking Conservation Managers and Local Communities to Achieve Conservation Goals
Unlike traditional conservation approaches which view the world through scientists’ eyes, a citizen science approach encompasses the perspectives of everyday people, how they see the world and interact with it. Community- or citizen-based water quality monitoring (CBWQM) is emerging as an important practice to consolidate democracy in South Africa, with the potential to enhance water quality management. This is supported by practical and accessible ‘tools of science’ and initiatives such as the ‘Enviro Champs’ model and ‘Adopt-a-River’, which are having a profound effect on changing the way that science and conservation are put into practice. By equipping communities with the necessary tools and instilling a sense of advocacy, managers and conservationists receive on-the-ground support, freshwater resources are safeguarded, and a shared language and set of common goals are created. Pollution, infestations of invasive plant species, and increased enrichment of nutrients within freshwater systems are just a few of the many examples reducing catchment health and resilience. A range of tools was developed, as part of citizen science interventions, including social processes, water stewardship and education around freshwater ecosystems, so as to better respond to the challenges within South Africa. The successes and limitations are presented here, along with the proposal to take the development of the tools one step further. Currently, researchers are investigating the alignment of the current CBWQM tools and initiatives within national development plans, i.e. Integrated Water Quality Management, and, at an international level, aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). What is envisaged is a scaling-up process, through which the tools and learning processes can be more widely accessed and applied, and sustainable funding or business models for this kind of work are developed, all of which is imperative for the conservation of southern African freshwater resources.