School water ambassadors win miniSASS competition prizes
In July 2014 the Water Research Commission (WRC) launched the Eco-School miniSASS Challenge. The challenge required participating schools to show evidence that learners can innovatively solve the water problems in their own communities by integrating a simple citizen science water quality testing tool, popularly known as miniSASS, into their environmental projects.
While concluding the National Youth Water and Sanitation Summit on Thursday 2 July 2015 at Birchwood Hotel in Boksburg, the Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation, Mrs Pamela Tshwete, handed over the prizes to the national winners of the miniSASS Challenge. First prize, with prize money of R35 000, went to Ennis Thabong Primary School, North West Province, 2nd prize of R25 000 went to Stirling High School, Eastern Cape, and the 3rd prize of R20 000 went to Muntuza Primary School, KwaZulu-Natal.
miniSASS is a simple tool which can be used by ordinary citizens to monitor the health of rivers in their neighbourhood. By studying the contents of a sample of macroinvertebrates (small aquatic animals) taken from the river one can arrive at a simple score that tells you the health class of the river, ranging from natural to very poor. This is a citizen science monitoring tool that provides a measure of the general health and water quality of rivers. miniSASS indicates water quality based on the sensitivity or tolerance of various animal groups to various aspects of water quality. The belief is that every school can be a monitoring cell, keeping an eye on the health of the rivers in their communities.
The Ennis Thabong Primary school is a shining example of hope in the Bojanala District of North West Province, and is located in the Madibeng local municipality. The fact that a group of primary school learners were able to use science and a reasoned argument to secure a visit from the mayor, a Parliamentary steering committee and the SA Human Rights Commission, is in itself a major accomplishment and a good example to communities. These VIPs were able to see that the sewage works was in a poor condition and was indeed polluting the Swartspruit which was then flowing into the Hartbeespoort dam.
Ennis Thabong Primary School’s Eco-code is “Stop polluting our world. Communicate and participate’’. The scientific method was well planned and used miniSASS at three sites on the Swartspruit on a monthly basis. The results showed that the river was in a very poor condition due to a poorly-run sewage treatment works. The findings were communicated at a school assembly, in the local newspaper and via letters to the authorities. After the authorities visited the school and sewage works the infrastructure was improved and the pollution has decreased.
As part of the Eco-School campaign, second-prize winner Stirling High School adopted Inhlaza River in the Eastern Cape. Being an urban stream, the river was impacted with solid waste which compelled the learners to consider doing some river clean-ups followed by miniSASS testing to check if this could restore the invertebrates that are sensitive to polluted water to the stream
While explaining the whole process, the learners of Stirling High School, Sydney Nel and Chad Rasmussen said “We learnt to use the miniSASS dichotomous key correctly; this will greatly benefit us in the final examination at the end of the year, as using this key falls under two sections of our curriculum, ecosystem analysis and classification of organisms. We also learnt a lot about macro-organisms.”
The third-prize winning school, Muntuza Primary School, is situated near the Drakensberg Mountains in the Escourt area and decided to adopt the Klienbosmans River that flows near their school. Here they performed a series of water quality tests, including miniSASS. They tested the river four times during the year, to see if the water quality changes much with the season. They found that during winter it was much harder to find some of the species they had found in summer, but the species returned as soon as the weather got warmer. For one of their testing sessions they invited Clifton Primary School and paired up with them to look after the river. Since this engagement, Clifton Primary School has gone on to do more miniSASS testing at the stream closer to their school. This partnership is noteworthy, because instead of the usual case in which a well-resourced school helps a disadvantaged one, in this story it was the other way around – Muntuza pupils sharing their knowledge with learners of the same age who are from a better resourced background.
Thanks to the WRC partners, WESSA and GroundTruth for supporting this community–based initiative. The new school’s miniSASS competition will be announced again before the end of July 2015.
Contact : Mrs Hlengiwe Cele by email: firstname.lastname@example.org