University of Botswana Okavango Research Institute (2016)

Building Capacity for Biodiversity Data Management and Dissemination in the Okavango Delta

Project Details

Grant Amount: $111,600
Contact: Michael Murray-Hudson
Contact Email: mmurray-hudson 'atsign' ori.ub.bw
Funding Dates: 9/26/16 - 6/25/19
Project Links:
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The Okavango River Delta is a 12,000 square kilometer oasis in the Kalahari Desert, wetlands pulsing with seasonal floods, concentrating wildlife, and supporting the people who rely on them. The network of marshes, streams, channels, pans, and ponds hosts a stunning assemblage of birds, fish, mammals, and plants, that attracts tourists from across the globe. The Okavango Basin, which extends northward into Namibia and Angola, faces growing pressure of rapidly-expanding human development and the increasing the agricultural and infrastructural demand for water resources that threatens both the quality and quantity of water available to the Delta.

The listing of the Delta as a Ramsar Convention wetland site of international importance, its new status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Botswana’s national Wetland Policy all require monitoring of the biodiversity and ecological integrity of the system. The conservation and sustainable management of the system must be based on knowledge of biodiversity status and trends. Yet these needs are poorly met by the current information landscape. Biodiversity and environmental data on the Delta are scattered across multiple disconnected databases, frustrating attempts to assemble a holistic picture of life in the Delta.

Key Objectives and Activities

The Okavango Research Institute (ORI) plans to enhance existing databases covering fish, macroinvertebrates, phytoplankton, and vegetation, and unify access to several major data repositories into a single portal.

Objective 1: Build capacity at ORI to maintain and expand data portal.

Eight staff at ORI across several departments will be trained to prepare for and execute the transition of existing databases to the unified web portal. ORI  will be capable of ensuring the sustainable growth of the portal through additional projects such as citizen science data collection.

Objective 2: Provide technical support for, and training of end-users. Strengthen institutional linkages.

The project will conduct training and networking across multiple user groups to increase awareness of the data portal, and facilitate data use by managers and ministerial staff. Training, via workshops and graduate degrees, will be targeted for audiences in government and resource management, to strengthen the connection with data users.

Planned Outputs

  • Web portal, provisionally titled TheOkavangoDatabase, unifying access to existing disparate databases documenting the biodiversity data for the Okavango Delta. The map-based landing page, and customized visualization tools will provide access to data in multiple formats.
  • Two training workshops to engage field and ministerial staff in data extraction and use.
  • Two Master’s-level graduate students, recruited from ORI and the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife, and Tourism, with training on database use and maintenance, and theses using the data to generate sustainable management products.
  • Computers installed and connected at two field stations for use by field staff in management.
  • Meetings and system demonstrations with ministerial leaders and staff.
  • Surveys to evaluate efficacy of outreach and awareness efforts.

Planned Outcomes

ORI expects that capacity-building and increased accessibility to data on the Okavango Delta’s biodiversity will result in ongoing growth of the databases and of the community of data users within the government. The departments responsible for reporting on the status of biodiversity to meet domestic and international agreements will more easily generate complete reports. Data accessibility will move the government toward more informed decision making. A centralized data portal for the Delta could also serve as a platform for a basin-wide monitoring effort, in collaboration with partners in Angola and Namibia.

Last Updated: March 5th, 2017

Primary Software Platforms

Data in existing databases will be formatted to Simple Darwin Core, using the GBIF IPT software. Data storage and access will be provided through SQL, the website will be constructed with PHP and JavaScript.

Project Director Biography

Dr. Michael Murray-Hudson has been the Coordinator of the Environmental Monitoring Unit at ORI since 2012 and the Research Scholar in Wetland Ecology since 2002. He is currently managing 2 research projects, one on the diversity and population ecology of riparian trees along the Thamalakane River in the Okavango Delta, and the second looking at the potential impacts of elevated nutrient levels in Okavango Delta water on Cyperus papyrus. His ongoing interest is in using species distribution models to evaluate the effects of hydrological and climate change on floodplain plants in the Okavango. Prior to joining ORI, Murray-Hudson worked in the Department of Water Affairs as a consultant in biological control of invasive aquatic plants from 1986-87, and was also involved in the development of the National Wetland Policy and Strategy, and many other land use plans relating to the development of the Okavango Delta.

Notes from JRS

This grant to the ORI is among the first in our Freshwater Program and may exemplify the type of project that we are seeking.  ORI is deeply engaged in collaborative projects with resource managers in the Okavango Delta in government and in the private sector and understands the types of data that would be valued by end-users.  The existing databases at ORI are out-of-date, not currently maintained, and not published for international access such as at GBIF.   The JRS grant will invest in training, a new data infrastructure, and outreach and engagement with end-users.

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