News Release

Aquatic Alwyn - Field Officer for Cape Critical Rivers Project

12 September 2013
Doing fieldwork, Brakwater
Photo: Sam Owen

Alwyn Lubbe is a man on a mission – he has been employed by the Endangered Wildlife Trust to take on alien fish, to engage with farmers on water use, encourage sustainable management and to protect the precious indigenous fish of South Africa's Cape Floristic Region, which are hanging on to survival by the tips of their fin(ger)s.

Alwyn is no ordinary Field Officer. Although he looks the part – a tall, rugged youth dressed in khaki – he will on a typical day walk the talk. In the morning Alwyn might typically discuss water validation methodologies with the governmental Department of Water Affairs, at tea-time get approval from a farmer to quantify his water use, by lunch he has caught a fish in his bare hands and after supper he will stimulate discussions on the value of aquatic biodiversity by his thought-provoking talk at the local conservation meeting. On a non-typical day, however, he will almost get washed away by a raging torrent whilst risking his life to measure water flow.

What drives Alwyn in his vocation? 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 (CFR), an internationally renowned biodiversity hotspot, and to encourage sustainable water resource utilization practices in rivers identified as National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (NFEPA’s).

Alwyn in mid-stream. Photo: Sam OwenAlwyn has worked as a biologist in many remote locations around the world, ranging from the sub-zero temperatures of the Rocky Mountains in the United States, tropical rainforests of Central America and the bushveld of the Kruger National Park in South Africa. However, he says that “his experiences on the project have been unparalleled in terms of the unexpected beauty just a few hours’ drive from the bustling Cape Town metropolis.” Luckily Alwyn is not shy of hardship and danger, as he says in some cases the Sandfish. Photo: C Riaan van der Walt“connection” to nature has been a bit too intimate in areas a bit too far from hospitals or any other people. “Close encounters with venomous snakes such as puff adders basking on warm riverside rocks, and almost being swept down a river are some eventful memories, but these are part of the job and the end product is undoubtedly worth the risk.”

Alwyn has as a backdrop for his work the stunning beauty of the CFR, which Rugged terrain. Photo: Sam Owenexpresses itself in a range of forms; from steep gorges, treacherous rapids and massive waterfalls, to tranquil riverside beaches and gently sloping hills covered in a kaleidoscope of the famous Namaqualand flowers. The climate of the CFR is also highly seasonal and often unpredictable, which makes fieldwork conditions challenging. To collect 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 function), Alwyn's office. Photo: Sam OwenAlwyn must brave the ice cold waters of the Cape rivers throughout the stormy winters when torrential downpours and snow-capped mountains are a common feature. Several times our team have had to yank Alwyn from the icy flows whilst he clings like a limpet to the project’s Flow Metre borrowed from Freshwater Research Centre.

Through the support of SOS, the project team has managed to leverage further funding, from the Mazda Wildlife Fund and the Elizabeth Wakeman Henderson Charitable Foundation – a portion of which Sawfin Spawning. Photo: Tom Peschakwill go to co-funding a brand-new Mazda ‘bakkie’ (off-road vehicle) for Alwyn to take him up mountain-high and treacherous-dale-low. This bakkie is an essential tool for Alwyn’s work, particularly as the next phase of fieldwork involves a three-week-long field trip in October.

During that expedition, Alwyn, along with a team of freshwater fish experts, government stakeholders, photographers and conservationists will be doing a torturous Doring river fish survey, driving and camping out in the wilderness of the Cederberg to the Bokkeveld, dragging nets through cutting currents to catch fish and spending lengthy periods carefully measuring and sampling alien and indigenous fish species. Watch this space!

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