Dr Louw Claassens and her team came back to Kenton in March 2020 (before lockdown) for a follow up visit on their research into estuarine pipefish found in the Kenton and Boesmans Estuaries.  Louw sent the following report.

Conserving the Critically Endangered Estuarine pipefish

In March 2020, the Estuarine pipefish research team ventured into the field again to conduct the second fieldtrip on the Critically Endangered Estuarine pipefish. This time around the team consisted of Dr Louw Claassens, director of the Knysna Basin Project and project lead, Nina de Villiers, MSc student from Rhodes University, and Jessica Seath, a new MSc student from Rhodes University. 

This project, funded by the National Geographic Society, aims to develop a Recovery Action Plan for the Estuarine pipefish (Syngnathus watermeyeri) and the first fieldtrip took place in October 2019.  The aim of the fieldtrip this time around was to gather more data on the distribution and abundance of the pipefish across its range – again focusing our efforts on the Kariega and Boesmans estuaries. Even though our team was a bit smaller this time around, we managed to sail through the sampling with some awesome findings! We were again fortunate to receive great support and help from the Kenton-on-Sea community, settling in with Jean Baker and using Dave Morrel’s boat for the fieldwork!

Figure 1: The pipefish team Nina de Villiers (left) and Jessica Seath (right) raring to go!

Sampling conducted in October 2019 was repeated which included sampling pipefish at the same sites surveyed in 2019 and collecting the related habitat and water quality data.

Repeat surveys like these enable us to gather additional data that helps us understand the ecology of this species. This time around we found a whopping 19 pipefish in the Kariega estuary (compared to only 2 found last year)! In the Boesmans estuary we again found 10 pipefish. We managed to get some great photos of the pipefish this time around and even found a female and male couple! It was also interesting to note that the distribution of the pipefish throughout these estuaries changed and with the additional habitat and water quality data we will attempt to determine why these pipefish occur where they do. We were also able to develop some habitat maps which focused on the availability of suitable pipefish habitat (eelgrass) throughout these estuaries.

Figure 2: Sampling for pipefish can be a messy, muddy job (but at least there are still smiles all around!)

Figure 3: The Estuarine pipefish, up close and personal

Figure 4: A heavily pregnant male pipefish with his female

We are still waiting for the results from our eDNA sampling conducting in October 2019. As soon as these results are available, we will be able to combine it with our survey results to gain a much greater understanding of the distribution of this species. Using both these approaches we hope to conclusively determine the status of the pipefish. In addition, if the eDNA approach taken is successful, we can use this approach as a long-term monitoring tool for this species.

In addition to the fieldwork, education is a big part of this project. It is critical that the local community is informed about the conservation importance of the pipefish so that local ownership for its conservation can be taken. To help garner support from the local community, we gave another presentation, with the generous help from Rotary, to provide an update and share our findings. The development of an effective Recovery Action Plan for the pipefish requires local input and support. With the help of Estuary Care we held a workshop where we were able to meet representatives from various local organizations which included the Department of Environment, Forest and Fisheries, local game reserves and NGO’s.

For more information, please feel free to check out their website on http://knysnabasinproject.co.za/ or get in touch with Dr Louw Claassens at kyss.louw@gmail.com

The Knysna Basin Project is an NGO, and we depend on donations to keep our heads above (and below) water. Please consider donating towards our research:

Bank: First National Bank
Account holder: Knysna Basin Project
Bank code: 210214
Account number: 6216 1671 443
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