Case Study: MiniSASS – River Health Monitoring and Management Tool


MiniSASS is a low technology, scientifically reliable and inexpensive participatory citizen science tool that can be used by anyone to monitor river health. MiniSASS is a simplified version of the SASS5 method; miniSASS only encompasses thirteen family groups of macro invertebrates, whereas the SASS5 method involves the identification of over 90 species. The miniSASS method involves collecting samples of macro invertebrates from a range of habitats and flows within the river. Macro invertebrate groups are then identified using the miniSASS dichotomous key, where each macro invertebrate family group is allocated a score based on the species’ sensitivity and tolerance to pollution and other water quality parameters.  The present ecological state (PES) is then calculated using the total miniSASS score (health classes range from natural to very poor).

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The miniSASS method has played a major role in developing a river health monitoring database while allowing citizens to actively participate in  river health monitoring. MiniSASS has seen a steady increase in user registrations and recorded observations since its launch,with the number of contributions to the miniSASS online database continually increasing. , Specifically,  there has been an increase in the geographical coverage (provincially and internationally), the number of users/contributors, the number of monitoring sites, and the number of different organisations contributing.

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The miniSASS method has gained popularity internationally and has gained support from academics and students. The miniSASS tool has been translated into isiZulu, Afrikaans, French,and Swahili, and has been actively used in several countries. It has formed the backbone of many training courses which have allowed for wider citizen science engagement around water resource management. MiniSASS is becoming an increasingly important citizen science tool, empowering citizens to monitor, understand and report the current state of their local natural water resources.

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There are several schools, universities, NGOs, companies, and government officials who are using the miniSASS method on a regular basis. The continuous and expanding use of the miniSASS method is contributing to a comprehensive citizen science database, which contributes to:

  • data availability around river health within a region
  • expanded and engaged understanding of river health issues by citizens
  • Co-engaged development of better management of water resources within a region.

A quarterly miniSASS newsletter is produced and distributed online to an ever-growing national and international audience of miniSASS users and other interested parties. The newsletter features stories and photographs that are provided by miniSASS users and conservancies.

Key limiters to the adoption of these tools shows that they may be broadly grouped according to either: Social, Technical, Financial or Geographic factors. Language translation also remains a barrier (e.g. materials printed in English; facilitation in English only). The miniSASS method has some critics (negative, no faith in amateur non-professional scientists), leading to lack of co-operation.

A number of concerns remain within the project regarding the maintenance in the long term, estimated commercially at approximately R100 000 per annum. The concern of who will host the miniSASS website and the integration of the miniSASS database and the website database remain uncertain.

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River Health Monitoring and Management Through Government and Community Partnership and Participation

Lessons Learnt

Government participation is essential;specifically, local authorities need to play a more supportive roleand where citizen participationis required. Additionally, local residents need to engage in voluntary work and organise river monitoring initiatives using CS tools.

NGO Website