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We proudly introduce South Africa’s new estuary information system

By Tim Parker-Nance, Senior Developer, SAEON Elwandle Coastal & uLwazi Nodes
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The new South African Estuary Information System (SAEIS) and Database (SAED) can now be accessed at http://saeis.saeon.ac.za.

The SAEIS website currently accommodates information on 275 estuaries, as well as 2 270 literary works and 3 006 images.

This follows a re-write to overcome problems that made the old website dysfunctional and unusable for many years.

History

In the early 2000s, a need was identified for a single repository of information, data and reports on estuaries. In 2007 an initiative by a group of estuarine scientists led to the 2008 national estuarine workshop in Grahamstown attended by various stakeholders including DEAT: MCM (now DEA, Oceans and Coasts and DAFF), DWAF (now DWA and DAFF), C.A.P.E. (CapeNature), Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, CSIR and SAEON.

The workshop was followed by meetings held during 2009, which included various NGOs and leaders in the field of estuarine research such as Prof. Janine Adams and Prof. Tris Wooldridge (both from Nelson Mandela University), Dr Susan Taljaard and Lara van Niekerk (both from CSIR), and Pierre de Villiers (CapeNature). In the process the overall design and layout of SAEIS took shape.

The source databases from CSIR and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife formed the foundation of the SAEIS and SAED. In 2010, Version 1.0 was developed in Microsoft Access.

A very active population period ensued that included the population of the original Estuaries of KwaZulu-Natal information, CSIR Green Reports, Water Research Commission (WRC) reports, Whitfield’s bibliography, and C.A.P.E. literature and photos. These holdings were reviewed via workshops held at CSIR in Cape Town and the then Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, leading to the production of Version 2.0 of the SAEIS/SAED database infrastructure in Microsoft Access.

The database was populated with all CSIR and National Geo-spatial Information (NGI, Department of Rural Development and Land Reform) and aerial photographs (slides and hard-copy photographs). Photographs made available by scientists were also uploaded for each estuary.

In December 2011, the administration of both SAEIS and SAED was transferred from the Cape Town-based SAEON Egagasini Node to the then Grahamstown-based Elwandle Coastal Node. A trial version of SAEIS was made available to all Consortium for Estuarine Research and Management (CERM) members from 1 April to 31 May 2012. The purpose of this was to afford the CERM members one final opportunity to assess the content and functionality of the system. The feedback was very positive, some valuable suggestions were put forward and functionality issues were emphasised.

On 2 July 2012, SAEIS was officially launched at the South African Society of Aquatic Scientists (SASAqS) Symposium held in St Francis Bay. The launch was implemented in the form of a workshop highlighting the functionality and working of the SAEIS online system. The event, presented by Bruce Donovan and chaired by Dr Tommy Bornman (both SAEON Elwandle Node), was well attended by a large number of key estuarine scientists and managers. There was a very enthusiastic and positive response to the system.

Post launch to now

Since then the standalone application, distributed on a CD/flash drive, died a slow death due to incompatibilities on certain operating systems, in particular 64-bit versions. The online version went through a series of technological and contractor changes that over time resulted in an unusable site.

After many unsuccessful attempts to fix the problems in 2017, the site was rewritten as a Microsoft Asp.Net Core 2.2 website and went live in December 2018.

The future

Traffic to the site has been growing slowly but steadily. We believe that once news spreads that the site is functional, we can expect a surge in traffic.

These are exciting times and much has changed since 2012, such as the new estuary classification system about to be published in 2019. There is a need to document these changes and update the data in the online system.

On the technical side, the SAEIS website is read-only and the functionality of the standalone version needs to be implemented in the online version to add new and update old information. SAED, which allows archiving of data (open source or private) by organisations and individuals, needs revisiting and implementation.

Roadshows to meet with stakeholders are planned for early 2019. The main priority of these is to facilitate discussion on new features needed for the SAEIS website and renew data agreements with the various authors and institutions that provided information for the SAEIS.

Acknowledgements

SAEON would like to acknowledge the valuable input of Dr Angus Paterson (South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity), Dr Kim Bernard, Tanith Grant, Dr Nuette Gordon, Bruce Donovan and Dr Wayne Goschen (SAEON Elwandle Node – responsible for application development), who developed this database. It incorporates the KZN Estuaries Database, which was developed by Rose Hamilton (Eco Tech Database Consultants). Tim Parker-Nance (SAEON Elwandle/uLwazi) re-wrote the SAEIS website in 2018.

Funding was provided by the WRC and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) Oceans and Coasts. We gratefully acknowledge their support during this project.

SAEON especially wishes to thank Dr Pete Goodman from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife for permission to use the KZN database as an initial model for the SAED. Furthermore, we gratefully acknowledge the following institutions and people for their valuable and continued input: Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife - Pete Goodman; C.A.P.E. - Pierre de Villiers; CSIR - Susan Taljaard, Lara van Niekerk and Pat Morant; DWS (RDM) - Barbara Weston; DWS (RQS) - Gerhard Cilliers; and DEA Oceans and Coasts - Ayanda Matoti. SAEON would also like to acknowledge the broader estuarine community for their enthusiasm and input, specifically those who have contributed data.

Special thanks to Dr Shaun Deyzel (SAEON Elwandle Node) for supplying the old reports and documents used to compile this news article. The WRC report that details the South Africa Estuary Information System (SAEIS) and Database (SAED) is accessible at http://saeis.saeon.ac.za/Archive/Literature/Reports/WRC/SAEIS_WRCreport_K8_840_Final.pdf

If you do find any errors or discrepancies while using SAEIS, please email timpn@saeon.ac.za with the details.

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