We must pray for His divine intervention!!!… But we must not pray like those who do not have faith…” While you may think that this is a sermon, it is a cry from the Minister of Water Affairs to the nation to pray for the heavens to open up, the rains to kiss the barren African soil. I must say that while this approach amused me, it is astounding that in 2017 we still experience water shortages – there is water available.

Let us be frank in that these issues culminate from historical recklessness of a nation vying for economic growth. Still trekking towards development, the country relies heavily on mining, coal power and agriculture to sustain the economy. Our progress is, ironically, messing with our most basic of human needs – the need for clean water. The Olifants River, which meanders through the Mpumalanga Province, lined with mining operations and coal power stations flanking the banks, serves as an appropriate example. Massive crocodile and fish deaths were reported in 2006 in the Olifants tributary running through the Kruger National Park; shortly afterwards, the same was reported at the Loskop Dam. The areas affected by this tragedy are national heritage key-points, highlighting the importance of resolving these issues.

The quality of our water is a tremendous issue – humans, plants, and animals rely on clean fresh water, and researchers who investigated the Olifants River tragedy could not pin-point the cause of all these mysterious deaths. So, what is to prevent the tragedy from repeating itself elsewhere?

Crocodile and fish mortalities reported at the Kruger National Park, as well as Crocodylus niloticus and C. gariepinus with white and brown spots in fat (from Olifants gorge on Mozambique border and Letaba confluence)
Crocodile and fish mortalities reported at the Kruger National Park, as well as Crocodylus niloticus and C. gariepinus with white and brown spots in fat (from Olifants gorge on Mozambique border and Letaba confluence)

In efforts to find the cause of these mysterious deaths, the research I have undertaken through my  Master’s into Doctoral studies is aimed at assessing the risk and levels posed by persistent organic chemicals at the Loskop Dam, using zebrafish as a model system. Preliminary findings have revealed high levels of these compounds and their contribution to the toxicity of the system.

This 18th year of the twenty-first century is marked as one where I get closer to the answers that have boggled many a scientist and national parks authorities. Why are our aquatic organisms dissipating, who and what is responsible, how is the wider population affected by these incidents, what can be done to prevent and revive the ecosystem!? Through the eye of a fishy needle, if you will, I will highlight some hard-hitting truths… And perhaps the final chapter of my thesis will be named REVELATIONS, rather than CONCLUSIONS!!!

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