Many threats affect biodiversity in the Cape Floristic Region rivers, in particular in the project target areas, the Olifants-Doring and Breede-Tradouw river systems.
First, various non-sustainable land use practices cause riverine ecosystems to lose their integrity. Such negative practices include the abstraction of too much water for agricultural purposes or abstraction during dry periods of low water, bulldozing or changing the profile of the riverbanks, poor management of riparian zones with overgrazing of riparian vegetation and poor protection of wetlands.
A threat of a different nature comes from the introduction and spread of alien invasive fish species.
Finally, under-resourced conservation and current water governance results in poor management of water use in critical catchments.
These threats are associated with a lack of awareness around the need to preserve ecosystems and the biodiversity they support.
The Cape Critical Rivers Project aims to help improve the conservation status of the many endangered or vulnerable indigenous fish species by directly addressing the above threats through a range of actions previously agreed with stakeholders.
This requires firstly, increasing the knowledge on indigenous fish biology and ecology, as well as on alien and indigenous fish distribution and spreads, especially in the Oorlogskloof-Koebee sanctuary.
An important aspect will be to identify strategies to ensure landowner cooperation in preventing further disruption of the riverine ecosystem and try to reduce the probability of further alien fish introductions.
A complementary part of this work will consist in developing a case study to try encourage sustainable water management amongst stakeholders, and identify strategies to improve cooperative water governance.
The project will also directly work to improve habitat conditions for indigenous fish species, and monitor and encourage compliance of the ecological reserve in the targeted catchment areas. Priority areas in Olifants Sandfish original distribution range will be identified and cleared of alien fish, allowing for re-introduction of the species.
The project activities will first lead to a greater awareness among local landowners, authorities and government bodies with regards to the plight and conservation status of the target species and threats. A consequent outcome should be a stronger commitment to ecologically sustainable land and water use practices and a greater involvement of stakeholders in fish species conservation.
On the alien fish issue, the project aims to reduce the likelihood of additional fish introductions occurring in rivers or catchments through a commitment from authorities and stakeholders and improved monitoring of the distribution of alien fish species.
Another expected outcome is the improvement of freshwater habitat, with the reclamation of priority indigenous fish species habitat, securing of new habitat if viable, and improved management and protection of fish sanctuaries, all this leading to an improved population status of indigenous fish species.
The project will eventually result in a more in-depth knowledge of sandfish biology and ecology, in particular how populations respond to environmental variability, including a review of the current IUCN status of the Olifants Sandfish.