Author Archive Céline Hanzen

Congrats to Rendani : School of Life Sciences Best Technical Support 2017 !

Rendani has been nominated SLS BEST TECHNICAL SUPPORT for 2017 ! Congratulations !

“Rendani is a Senior Technician in Biology.  She embraces her job with dedication. She shows a lot of dedication and passion in her current job as well as any additional tasks she is given. She is very helpful with any duties given to her and never complains. Rendani was very instrumental in helping Anathi with the distribution of the new computers and kept an accurate inventory thereof. She is always willing to set up skills tests, marks them and gets the results timeously  to the technical manager. She is the type of person that a Technical Manager can call on at any time to get a job done and in all good time as well. She is excellent with her time management. Apart from carrying out her technical duties with the utmost aptitude she  is a registered PhD students as well as a theme leader for Aquaculture. Rendani is also a Study senior researcher for the Aquatic Ecosystems Research.  Thanks Rendani for doing your job so well. Much Appreciated!”

Latest news from the eels of KwaZulu-Natal

Last year, we’ve been granted a Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme grant to investigate the distribution and genetic diversity of Freshwater eels in the main rivers of KwaZulu-Natal. The project started in July 2016 and we just ended the field work.

This project aims to evaluate the change in historical distribution and genetic diversity of Anguillid eels along the East Coast of KwaZulu-Natal. To achieve these aims the following objectives have been proposed:

  1. Review the historical distribution (based on museum records) of freshwater eels in KwaZulu-Natal,
  2. Evaluate the change in distribution of freshwater eels in KwaZulu-Natal,
  3. Evaluate the genetic variability of freshwater eels from populations in main rivers of KwaZulu-Natal.

In the last two months, we focused our sampling effort in under-represented and under-sampled areas of the province where historical data was available as well as local knowledge. We then travelled to the Umtamvuna, Umzimkhulu, Umgeni, Thukela and the North Coast where we caught 15 eels (and 3 species Anguilla mossambica, A. marmorata and A. bengalensis labiata). Here are a few photos !

NB : All eels were released back where we caught them. It has to be noted that we work under a strict ethical code of conduct and that no fish were harm in any case. 

Guests at Zingela River Safari were really keen to learn about eels !

This eel caught in the Thukela was a little bit too big for our measuring pipe ! This is a giant mottled eel (A. marmorata) measuring 119 cm !

This African mottled eel, A. bengalensis labiata, has got some sharp teeth !

Setting some fyke nets and rafting in the Thukela

Electrofishing in the Thukela

Longfin eel (A. mossambica) caught in Harding in a farm dam !

Dr Peter Calverley, happy to help in Zingela ! Thanks to him for most of the photo presented here and all the help !

Setting fyke nets can sometimes be quite adventurous !

A pretty looking Longfin eel caught in Palm Lakes Estate. What do you think of that coloration ?

All the occurence data and barcode will be available ealy in the new year via GBIF and BOLD database.

We received tremendous help from local conservancies, fisherman, landowners and other enthusiasts and we want to really thank them for them help ! We would like to especially thank Michael House Nature Reserve, Donovale Farming, Palmiet Nature Reserve, the Payn Familly from Harding, Ben from Leitch Landscape, Helene and Paul from Simbithi Eco Estate, Dave and Chris from Palm Lakes Estate, Peter and everyone else at Zingela River Safari for their contribution (access, accomodation, warm welcome, help on the field and equipment).

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A tagging study : movements of KwaZulu-Natal yellowfish in the upper uMngeni River.

Riverine ecosystems are affected by anthropogenic activities and environmental changes. One of the ways in which to evaluate the effect of these impacts is assessing the behaviour ecology of fish populations. Fish behaviour tells us how fish adapt to human activities (survival and recruitment) and how they improve their use of ecosystem resources. Behavioural variables include habitat selection, reproduction and reproductive strategies and migration behaviour. Information on fish behaviour can be used in conservation of fish and the aquatic ecosystems they occupy.

As part of a study on the uMngeni River we will be looking at the reproductive biology and migration behaviour of the KwaZulu-Natal yellowfish (Labeobarbus natalensis). This involves evaluating the location, timing and duration of spawning migrations of yellowfish in the uMngeni River. Thus far, 22 yellowfish have been tagged with VI tags (Figure 1) at the inlet of the uMngeni River into Midmar dam, with the intention to tag more over time. We would like to call on all anglers in the upper uMgeni River for the assistance in recording data from any tagged yellowfish they may catch as this will aid the study immensely.

We need your help ! In the event that a tagged yellowfish is caught please, at best, take note of the following and let us know:

1. The location (include site coordinates if possible)
2. The date
3. The VI tag number (e.g. D 55)
4. The standard length of the fish (mm)*
5. The weight of the fish (g)
6.Note any abnormalities (e.g. deformity, disease or injury)
7. Photo of VI tag and full body photo (see examples below)

Figure 1: Orange arrows shows : on the left, the placement of the VI tag behind the eye, and on the right the placement of the VI tag in relation to the body of the fish.

Please Contact the following people below with any information or questions:
Pumla Dlamini:, Matthew Burnett: and Dr. Gordon O’Bien:


* Standard length :

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Tales of a 6-months internship with the AER Team by Emily Winter

Emily Winter shares some of the highlights of her six-month internship with the Aquatic Ecosystem Research Group.

Back in April, I was pleased to be met with a welcoming and enthusiastic group at UKZN, who readily introducing me to the research themes, team members and field sites. I was eager to challenge myself and quickly got stuck into some fish surgery practice with Céline and Matthew, in preparation for the FishTrack project in the uMngeni catchment. I soon overcame my fear of croc-infested waters and could be found checking nets and electro-fishing at Fountain Hill Estate in search of the Natal yellowfish. I was excited to be assisting Matthew and co in the development of their new, real-time telemetry project.

Assisting Matt in catching yellow fish in Fountainhill Estate (Wartburg)

While also assisting with the quarterly REMP (River Eco Status Monitoring Programme) surveys, my own project was developing under the watchful eyes of Gordon and Celine, and in June I joined the SAPPI team to explore the lower Thukela catchment and monitor its fish and invertebrate communities. A hypothesis was born, and I focussed my investigations on the use of the Nembe and eMandeni tributaries by fish when the Thukela river is in flux. My fish identification and surveying skills progressed rapidly with the support of Mahomed, particularly in distinguishing between the small barb (Enteromius) species, and I was proud to be able to lead similar surveys in July and August. The opportunity to survey the Thukela fishway with Gordon, David and Mphatheni was a particular highlight, with initial results suggesting that the structure does not function as a migration corridor as well as would be hoped.

Conducting REMP surveys in the Umgeni with Fortunate and Pumla.

In the final few months, I was very fortunate to be invited to contribute towards international efforts for a review paper on African fish migrations (yet to be published). The experience has been invaluable in developing my scientific critique, writing and collaboration skills and I have learnt a considerable amount about African freshwater ecology in the process. Despite returning to Europe, I am excited about continuing this trend, maintaining connections with my new South African friends and colleagues, and developing ways in which we can work together in the future. With the help of Mahomed, I will be remotely completing the ‘Tributary Refuge’ project on the Thukela and I look forward to sharing the results with the wider research community when the time comes.

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A visitor from Argentina !

A couple weeks ago we had a special visit from Argentina. Baltazar Bugeau, a post grad working for the Fundación Miguel Lillo, is interested in fish ecology and is focusing on the “dorado” in the Juramento River in Argentina. Baltzar has been dreaming of South Africa since he was a young kid and was particularly keen to try and catch on of our famous Tigerfish !

Baltzar joined the team on the field in the framework of the River Health Project and Céline’s eel project. He joined us for sampling in the WESSA-Umgeni Valley. The access to the site (Fish Jump Fall) is quite an adventure and Baltzar had good fun ! Unfortunately, the survey was not that successfull. We then headed to Fountainhill Estate where we caught some nice yellowfish.


Baltzar with team member Lungelo and intern from WESSA Umgeni Valley

Baltzar was lucky enough to be among us during the South African Swimway Workshop which has been held in Pretoria to celebrate the World Fisheries Day on the 21st November. He gave us a nice presentation about his study river and his dorado ! He showed us impressive pictures of this “river tiger” (Tigres Del Rio)… there was a lot of “oooh” “waaaaw” and “aaah” in the room during his presentation !



Team at the conference venue (Rendani, Céline, Baltazar and Nombuso)


Happy team at the end of the day (Gordon, Baltazar and Céline)


Our team @Global Change 2016 Conference

This week, part of our team is attending the national Global Change conference 2016 in Durban.

They have been lucky to be part of a beautiful video showcasing the research relating to Global Change at UKZN.

Gordon is presenting on the holistic regional management of multiple water quantity, quality and other stressors in Africa using PROBFLO.


Gordon  and Relative Risk Model

Gordon is also presenting on behalf of Mbali and Madonna who were unfortunately unable to attend the conference. Their respective presentations focused on relative risk assessmenin the Amatikulu/Nyoni catchment and on the variability in communities of selected South African river dominated estuaries.

Céline is presenting a poster about her project and first findings. This is also her first participation to a conference !

Exciting positions available within the Aquatic Ecosystem Research Programme !


Three exciting MSc (possibly Ph.D) positions are available within the Aquatic Ecosystem Research Programme (AER) of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg. The candidates will be integrated in a larger group of postgraduate students working in aquatic ecology within the AER. As part of an applied ecology group, the candidates will be expected to participate on other projects within the group.

 Project 1 (MSc/PhD): Behavioural ecology research on the KwaZulu-Natal Yellowfish (Labeobarbus natalensis) in the Umgeni River.

Behavioural studies using fish movement and activity as variables are widely used to monitor ecological consequences of change in aquatic ecosystems. Techniques involving radio-telemetry in particular have been used locally and internationally to characterise the biology and ecology of fish including habitat requirements, and response to adverse ecosystem conditions, using a relatively small number of individuals. This study has been designed to implement the FISHTRAC real time fish and water quality and quantity monitoring methods established for South African, in the Umgeni River to monitor the response of yellowfish to changes in water quality and flows over a two year period.

Project 2 (MSc/PhD): Fish as ecological indicators of ecosystem wellbeing in KwaZulu-Natal.

For the past three years the AER has been monitoring the wellbeing of fish communities in rivers across KwaZulu-Natal. The aim of this study is to expand on existing fish community wellbeing data and evaluate the wellbeing of communities using multiple lines of evidence. In addition this study will compare and evaluate these lines of evidence. This two year study includes fish community structure sampling in rivers and lakes throughout KZN.

Project 3 (M.Sc): Research on the diversity and population wellbeing of the Chubby head minnows of KwaZulu-Natal.

Historical data suggests that the Chubby head minnow group of KwaZulu-Natal (Enteromius anoplus and E. gurneyi) may be a complex of species which is important for the conservation our biodiversity in the province. Many populations of these minnows are threatened and potentially in need of conservation which includes possible changes in the conservation status of populations/species. The scope includes sampling of fishes throughout KwaZulu-Natal. The collection of samples/data for genetic and morphometric analyses and a rapid risk assessment of threats to wellbeing of these fishes.


  • Sc., Hons. degree in ichthyology, aquatic ecology, environmental sciences, zoology or similar (M.Sc for Ph.D candidates).
  • Willingness to conduct field work and participate on surveys with other Post-graduate students within the AER.
  • Drivers licence (experience driving 4x4s and towing trailers/boats would be an advantage).
  • Enthusiastic, punctual, hard-working and pro-active.

All projects include competitive bursaries and project operational costs. Applicants should submit a covering letter with motivation for a project, a CV, copies of their academic transcripts, and contact information for at least two references. Please apply to and visit our website ( for more information,

International students are welcome to apply.

Application closes 30 November.

INVITATION – Dialogue to celebrate the World Fisheries Day and workshop on SA Fish Swimway Programme

We are pleased to announce that the SA Fish Swimway Programme will be hosting a workshop on the 21st of November 2016 in Pretoria. The University of KwaZulu Natal, together with WRC and SA Fish Swimway Programme Partners, will be hosting an event to celebrate World Fisheries Day. This will include presentations by fish specialists, followed by discussions reviewing the Swimway programme and refining the next steps. One of the speakers will be Mathew Ross, who in 2015 completed his PhD on fishway design in South Africa.  Representatives from the Kingfisher Project have also been invited, to talk about the current plans for Catchment Management Agencies in South Africa. During the workshop, we would like to specifically refine a suitable proposal that can be used for funding applications relating to fish migration in South Africa. We hope you will be able to attend ! 

Interested ? Please RSVP


Hazel in Sweden !

One of our PhD students, Hazel Govender, just left us for the University of Lund in Sweden. Her adventure started last March with her application for the EUROSA Scholarship – Erasmus Mundus Action 2. She was awarded at the end of April and it’s been a long process!



The Library at Lund University (By Anton Holmquist Soasta – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

She will be based at the Centre for Environmental and Climate Research at Lund University.  Her supervisor is Dr Ullrika Sahlin, who specialises in “practical implementation of decision making under uncertainty”.  She will be attending PhD courses in “Risk and Decision making under uncertainty”.  The work schedule includes working on CEC current projects and application of her experience at CEC, to her project.

She arrived in Lund on Wednesday 12th October and went straight into a PhD course on Risk on Thursday and Friday.  In November, she will be attending the Society for Risk Assessment (SRA) Nordic Chapter Meeting in Gӧteborg, where she will do an oral presentation.  This will be a gathering of risk researchers and risk specialists with a multi-disciplinary focus.

Hazel will share her adventures and experiences as many time as possible on this website. We can’t wait to see pictures !



Freshwater Fish Identification Course – Kruger National Park

Two of our lucky PhD students, Céline and Mahomed, had the great opportunity to participate in a 3 day Freshwater Fish ID course in the Kruger National Park : one day of theory and then 2 days of practical work catching fish in the Sabie and Sand rivers. The pratical work also included microscopic examinations of specimens collected in the Scientific Services Lab. Netting (seine and cast nets) and electrofishing were conducted in the Sabie and Sand rivers.

The Sabie River in KNP

The theme of this course was aimed at field collections  – essentially where to look, how to collect,  how to identify using a key, how to collect tissue and DNA samples and photography.  In addition, Paul Skelton (cfr “A complete Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Southern Africa“) gave a lecture about new species and taxonomy changes for fish in southern Africa.

Below are some of the different species caught during the course

Mahomed releasing a yellowfish in the Sabie

Mahomed releasing a nice looking yellowfish (Labeobarbus marequensis) in the Sabie River

Here’s a video clip of their experience