The Life of an ENVASS Wetland and Aquatic Ecologist

Posted on 21 May 2021

Environmental Assurance (Pty) Ltd. (ENVASS) recently conducted a combined wetland and aquatic impact assessment of a proposed mine with an extent of approximately 2,129 Hectare (ha) within the Greater Tubatse Local and Sekhukhune District Municipalities of the Limpopo Province. The requirement of a detailed aquatic biodiversity study stemmed from the initial Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) screening tool report, which indicated that the proposed mine was situated in an area of Very High sensitivity in terms of the aquatic biodiversity theme. The overall desktop aquatic sensitivity of the site was confirmed by our specialist during the initial site sensitivity verification, which was conducted during the wet season applicable to the region. In accordance with Government Notice (GN) no. 320 published within Government Gazette (GG) no. 43110 (DEA, 2020), the findings justified the need for a full aquatic biodiversity impact assessment as oppose to the alternative compliance statement.


To determine the presence and outer extent of all watercourse (wetland and rivers) within the study area, the ‘practical field procedure for identification and delineation of wetlands and riparian areas’ delineation procedure (DWAF, 2008) was implemented by the ENVASS wetland and aquatic ecologist. This was undertaken during an extensive field survey of the study area, which also entailed recording land cover changes and hydrological flow regime characteristics of the relevant micro-catchment areas, as well as gathering aquatic biota and habitat data through implementing the South African Scoring System Version 5 (SASS5), Integrated Habitat Assessment System (IHAS) (McMillan, 1998) and Fish Response Assessment Index (FRAI) (Kleynhans, 2007) tools and obtaining in situ water quality data. The information gathered in field was utilised to determine the baseline Present Ecological State (PES), Ecological Importance and Sensitivity (EIS), prescribed no-go buffer zones and Ecosystem Service (ESS) potential and delivery of the at-risk watercourses. Baseline data such as this is essential for comparative (monitoring) purposes, and was utilised to determine the Recommend Management Objective (RMO) / Recommend Ecological Category (REC) of each affected watercourse. This information guided the revised layout, proposed mitigation measures and, along with implementing the DEA Mitigation hierarchy (DEA, 2014), aided in concluding whether the proposed mine would require rehabilitation or offset of the potentially at-risk aquatic resources. A reasonable opinion as to whether or not the proposed mine should be authorised was provided to inform the decision making process to be conducted by the relevant competent authorities.


The above serves as a brief snippet of the legislated protocols which our highly qualified inhouse wetland and aquatic ecologists conduct on a daily basis in an effort to strive for sustainable development and in doing so conserve the invaluable aquatic resource of our nation. Guided by strong environmental legislation, policy and guidelines, the ENVASS specialists and Environmental Assessment Practitioners (EAPs) advocate for development that is both sustainable and beneficial to the receiving natural and anthropogenic environments. Be it through rehabilitation, offset or community programmes there should never be a net loss of biodiversity or community prospects as a result of a proposed development. We have one world to live in, so let us conserve it for all generations.


Feel free to contact ENVASS to discuss potential specialist, Water Use License Application (WULA) or Environmental Authorisation (EA) requirements. We would be happy to assist! Our offices are situated in Gauteng (Pretoria), KwaZulu-Natal (Durban), North West (Hartebeespoort) and the Western Cape (Paarl and Riverdale).


Contact information:


Tel: 012 460 9768