|"Are you sure that you know where you are going?" |
Oikantswe Botshelo of Gaberone's Department of
Water Affairs and Merepelo Lekhuru of the Okavango
Research Center study a map during the lunch break
on the 7-hour boat trip between Drotsky's and Guma
After three days of sampling the northern panhandle, the AquaRAP teams came together to share observations. Each team sampled a series of sites and entered their first set of data into the laptop computers we've hauled out to the field.
The water quality/limnology team told us that the water they sampled is exceptionally clean. This isn't too surprising since the rainwater that feeds the Okavango flows through a sparsely populated area and is heavily filtered by the plant life. The river is our source of freshwater so I'm relieved to hear these findings.
In terms of biodiversity, there is a high level of species diversity in the upper panhandle but some of the scientists wonder if the abundance (numbers) of species sampled may be influenced by the season (it's the dry season here), the channel flow (which is running high because we're just ahead of the seasonal flood) and other factors, like fishing and boat traffic. There are no conclusions about the overall state of the Okavango yet but the AquaRAP team raised questions that may become themes through the rest of the expedition:
|Shipping out from Drotsky's camp to Guma.|
- Could boat traffic influence bird populations?
- Is the level of fishing in the river sustainable?
- What will happen to the quality of the water if local populations increase or tourism brings more people to the region?
All good questions to ponder during our seven-hour river cruise to the next campsite. "A little sun, some sightseeing – this will be nice," I thought. Little did I know how much the Okavango River would change as we headed downstream. The first several hours of the trip through the main channel were calm along a wide stream. The sky was clear blue with just some high clouds, perfect weather for the 12 foot-long crocodiles to
|AquaRAP boat caravan speeds into |
the Papayrus channels of a lagoon on
the way to Guma camp.
sun themselves along the river.
PEOPLE: AquaRAP team talks about why they became scientists.
TOOLS: Measuring the physics, chemistry and biology of the river.
ISSUES: Water: Quality vs. Rights
SPECIES: Plants and animals of the swamp habitat.
Then the channel changed. The last two hours we navigated through twisting, narrow paths through papyrus and phragmites. We had to keep our heads down to avoid being hit or cut by the reeds that slapped the sides of our open boats.
As the banks closed in on us and the mosquito factor increased, I thought, "It's a good thing there's no other boat traffic today." Two boats could not have fit through this narrow channel side by side. I learned later that the channel we traveled is dying. Although local people continue to cut back the reeds, the river is steadily changing course and carving out a new path.
– Reported by Lani Asato
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