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Researchers explore microalgae biodiversity in Theewaterskloof Dam

Sameera Casmod |
19 October 2023 | 11:02 CAT
2-min read

Africa’s only hyperspectral radiometric buoy deployed in Theewaterskloof Dam to assess micro-algal data.
Picture: CSIR

In a bid to delve deeper into the world of microalgae and its pivotal role in maintaining the health of South Africa’s drinking water dams, a team of researchers from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has undertaken a project in the Theewaterskloof Dam, situated in the Western Cape. With an increasing concern over the provision of clean drinking water in various provinces, the researchers’ efforts are geared towards comprehending the crucial significance of microalgae biodiversity in sustaining the delicate balance of these vital water sources.

In an interview with Dr Lisl Lain, senior researcher in the Coastal Systems and Earth Observation Research Group at the CSIR, the intricacies of the study were discussed, shedding light on the importance of understanding the role of microalgae in the broader ecosystem.

Dr Lain explained the concept of microalgae biodiversity: “Biodiversity refers to the distribution of species in a certain ecosystem… Algae are the smallest living organisms and the base of everything. They’re the fundamental basis of the food chain. [This research will allow us to] understand from the very bottom of the food chain what is supporting out aquatic ecosystems and how to keep them healthy in our drinking water dams.”

The deployment of a buoy equipped with a series of specialised instruments in the Theewaterskloof Dam has allowed the team to monitor and analyse various elements within the water, including algae, sediment, water quality, and light field measurements from the air. Dr Lain elaborated, “The aim of the research project is to make simultaneous measurements of what’s in the water and combine those with measurements of the light field, enabling us to improve the monitoring and understanding of our ecosystems.”

Addressing the choice of the Theewaterskloof Dam, Dr Lain cited logistical reasons, proximity, and the dynamic nature of the dam, which has experienced severe droughts and recent flooding. The team’s choice of this dam serves as a pivotal testing ground for their research, with implications for numerous other dams across the country.

Regarding the duration of the project, Dr Lain highlighted the extensive nature of their research efforts, spanning over a decade. “This particular deployment forms part of a much larger length of time. We have deployed this buoy on and off for about 10 years now,” she explained.

Dr Lain emphasised the collaborative nature of the research, emphasising the ultimate goal of serving the South African public by improving water quality management. “The data from this and the understanding achieved from the data will feed into all of those different arms of science, research, management, and ultimately serve the South African public,” she remarked.

With the deployment set to continue until the end of December, the findings of this pioneering research endeavour are expected to pave the way for a more comprehensive understanding of the delicate interplay between microalgae and the health of South Africa’s drinking water sources.

Listen to the full interview on Sabaahul Muslim with Moulana Sulaimaan Ravat:


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