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Post grad positions available !

We are very pleased to announce few post grad projects available (MSc and PhD’s) from 2020 ! These projects are very exciting and cover fish ecology and migration in South Africa and beyond.





Project 1 (Msc’s and PhD’s) : Ecology of freshwater eels in the Western Indian Ocean and their contribution to sustainable fisheries and livelihood. This is a collaborative study with Egerton University (Kenya) and the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute. 

Project 2 (MSc) : Monitoring of efficiency of the Thukela Fishway and environmental performance of the facility (South Africa). This is a collaborative study with researchers from Charles Sturt University in Australia. 

Project 3 (MSc) : Monitoring of the efficiency of the artificial fish barrier on the Mooi River (invasive control) and environmental performance of the facility (South Africa)

Please click on the project title for a more comprehensive description.

Deadline to apply 1 November 2019

Contact and for enquiry and applications.

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New horizons for AER !

In July 2018, Dr. Gordon O’Brien took up the post of a the Senior Lecturer in Ecology within the School of Biology and Environmental Sciences (SBES) at the University of Mpumalanga (UMP). The UMP has only recently been established (2013) with the commitment to develop as an African university providing leadership in knowledge creation and dissemination. The SBES has committed to become a flagship school of the UMP and develop training and research excellence, and community engagement in the region

Dr. O’Brien is now based in Mbombela in Mpumalanga and will continue as the Programme Leader Aquatic Ecosystem Research Programme which in effect has increased the regional spatial footprint from KwaZulu-Natal to include Mpumalanga. For the foreseeable future post-graduate students of the AER will primarily be registered at UKZN although some will be based at UMP and work from Mbombela. Together with local stakeholders of UMP including local and provincial government, SANPARKS and the IUCMA for example we have tremendous opportunity for training and applied  research, and we want to ensure that our endeavours in our expanded region meet the needs of the very stakeholders we are committed to make a contribution to.

On the 31st of August, Dr. O’Brien hosted a UMP-AER stakeholder workshop that was attended by a range of local scientists, managers and conservationists. Together we have established a mandate for the AER at UMP and established group structures and research opportunities to grow with staff and facilities into a responsible, effective research unit in Mpumalanga.


Key output 2017 : River Health Programme – State of the rivers of KwaZulu-Natal

In 2017 the AER completed an evaluation of the ecological wellbeing of the 16 major rivers in KwaZulu-Natal. This includes results from eight seasonal bio-physical assessments undertaken by the AER between 2014 and 2016. The outcomes provide stakeholders of the managers of rivers in KwaZulu-Natal with critical information they require to protect our riverine ecosystems.

The team as SASAqS annual congress 2018

Last week, the team embarked on a long drive to Cape St Francis Bay to attend the annual congress of the Southern African Society for Aquatic Sciences. They had an amazing week and really enjoyed sharing their various projects to the sciences community.

Céline presented the results of her collaborative study with SAIAB on the wellbeing of freshwater eels in the Keiskamma and Umgeni catchments. Matthew convinced everyone he was going to save the world with the FISTRAC concept. Gordon took us to the Nile Basin and his E-Flow and Risk study – which has been implemented ! And finally Hazel introduced us the world of Bayesian network and risks.

Fortunate presented her results on poster regarding her MSc project on the genetic and conservation of Mozambique Tilape while Melissa talked us about the very important Thukela Catchment. Gordon also presented a poster about PROBFLOW.

It was a good opportunity to network and also, have a bit of fun at the beach !

We were busy celebrating the World Fish Migration Day 2018 !

The Aquatic Ecosystem Research team has been busy with World Fish Migration Day 21st April 2018: Kruger National Park – Sabie River, Palmiet River and Msunduzi/uMngeni River.

World fish migration day (WFMD) is an event held globally every two years aquatic scientist with support from the World Fish Migration Foundation (WFMF). The WFMF encourages scientist within water resource research to host an event locally to create awareness for the migration of fish, promoting the connectivity of rivers and the work they are doing to contribute to river connectivity. The Aquatic Ecosystem Research (AER) group within the CWRR at UKZN co-hosted with WFMF (a team of Dutch scientists) and South African National Parks (SANParks) an event within the Kruger National Park. This event became the WFMD headquarters for Africa. The event extended over three days ending on the 21st of April in Skukuza Rest Camp and had various activities all focusing around fish connectivity within Rivers, and the benefits of having healthy fish to have healthy Rivers and healthy people.

On the day the book “From Sea to Source 2.0: Protection and restoration of fish migration in rivers worldwide” was launched. The book contained articles from all over the world on different problems and solutions to fish migrations three small chapters were written by Dr Gordon O’Brien programme leader for the AER-UKZN group. The book was handed over to and warmly received by the Managing Executive of KNP Mr Glenn Philips. Other SANParks official along with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) for Limpopo and environmental consulting companies attended the event.

Leading up to the day, Kanniedood Dam near Shingwedzi Rest Camp was demolished using explosives as part of the KNP’s water management policy to restore the parks natural water distribution and improve river connectivity. Further natural science pupils from local schools were invited to be educated on the topic of fish migrations and interact with local and international scientist and managers, with the Sabie River weir and gauging station used as demonstrations. The students were given the chance to see some of the local fish species as the AER team showed them how to catch fish and do SASS5 monitoring. Other activities for the event included: Press releases from local and international news organisations, fishway demonstrations, face paints, a small aquarium with local species (15 species were on display) and posters of the research the AER-UKZN group are involved in.

The team involvement in Kruger also lead to a nice article in the Sunday Citizen, that you can read here.

Here within KwaZulu-Natal the AER hosted two other events. The first event took place on the 11 March to accommodate the high-school canoe races, the second took place within the Palmiet River event on the 21st April. The canoe race was co-hosted with the girls from St Anne’s High School. The challenge was to paddle the race upstream instead of downstream. The idea was warmly received, and the kids got first-hand experience of what fish go through when migrating upstream. The kids got fully involved tackling rapids, current and dams to get to the finish line. The whole event was filmed and presented to the world on World Fish Migration Day in Skukuza, KNP and launched online. The theme around the video was ‘Duzi Gold’ with yellowfish being equated to a living commodity as valuable as gold. Check out our video by searching for ‘Duzi Gold’ online to see the paddlers paddling upstream.

The Palmiet River event was co-hosted with the Palmiet River Valley Conservancy (PRVC). The Palmiet River was selected as it flows directly into the Umgeni River Estuary and is a socio-economically important system, despite the many problems it faces as an urban river. The socio-ecological importance of fish communities was highlighted, as well as the multiple stressors negatively influencing them, particularly within the Palmiet River. The event had various public interaction sessions with an array of activities. An aquarium housing the species caught within the Palmiet were on show, this included a 900 mm eel which became the centre of attention. Maps were placed on displays providing information to the public. In addition, citizen science tools (miniSASS and the clarity tube) were demonstrated. Members of the public were encouraged to take cognisance of the environmental impacts around them and to take action.


All in all, World Fish Migration Day was a great success! The various events held by the AER-UKZN team with support from the CWRR centre all drew in the crowds and created much needed awareness towards the connectivity of Rivers. We all started thinking of how well-connected our rivers are, particularly the uMgeni River. Not only are we fighting pollution issues’ but we need to create free flowing rivers within the catchments we find ourselves in.


Follow these links to learn more.

World Fish Migration Day:

From Sea to Source 2.0: Protection and restoration of fish migration in rivers worldwide:

Duzi Gold Series


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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)