National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

The Freshwater Biodiversity Information System (FBIS) team

For the development of a powerful, open-access system for hosting, analysing and serving freshwater biodiversity data for South Africa, in order to facilitate freshwater decision-making.

Huge amount of scientific data about local freshwater species is now freely available on an online platform known as the Freshwater Biodiversity Information System, or FBIS.

This platform, which was built by the Freshwater Research Centre (FRC), in partnership with Kartoza and the South African National Biodiversity Institute, wins the ‘Data for Research’ award.

Dr Helen Dallas, executive director of the FRC, says before they built FBIS, data collected by researchers and students over the years would often “get stuck on a shelf”, or in a spreadsheet on someone’s computer.

“That shouldn’t be the end of the journey,” she says. “We wanted to create a space that brought all of this information together; all of these huge and valuable data records, to be reused multiple times for different purposes.”

Having been in this field for over 30 years, Dallas says many people had approached her informally for information about freshwater biodiversity.

She says many also struggled to easily find such information elsewhere, and so her team quickly realised that there is demand for a formal, easy-to-use ‘dashboard’ to access all of the scientific data we have about freshwater biodiversity in South Africa.

Her team first consulted with end-users to get their exact requirements, so that they could build FBIS in a way people would actually use. 

Users can, for example, punch in the name of a critically endangered species, and the platform will provide what we know about that species’ distribution and threat status, and whether or not it is endemic.

“Data from the FBIS platform is already being integrated into the environmental impact assessment (EIA) screening tool of the Department Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE),” says Dallas. In practice, this could mean that when a new development is planned on a wetland or near a river, the FBIS platform will be part of the mandatory process to assess the impact on biodiversity.

The platform has received high praise locally and internationally. Dallas says she felt particularly proud when their original vision come to life through the dashboards created by their technical partner Kartoza. 

“It feels like I’ve raised a child and it’s extremely rewarding,” she says, adding that the project has already gone “way beyond the borders of South Africa”.

“We’ve got colleagues in Europe that just love what we’ve done,” says Dallas. “We’ve also got a system in Rwanda and Okavango, and you can see the excitement on the platform.”

She says talks are underway for a global repository of freshwater biodiversity based on the South African FBIS. 

FBIS can be accessed at freshwaterbiodiversity.org.

The Freshwater Biodiversity Information System (FBIS) Team, Freshwater Research Centre (FRC) and Kartoza won the Data for Research Award for advancing the availability, management and re-use of research data.
— ScienceLink

Read the special Mail & Guardian supplement about all the NSTF-South32 Award winners.

Subscribe to our eNews

Sign up to receive news on what is happening in science, engineering, technology (SET) and innovation in South Africa

Copyright © 2023 All Rights Reserved | National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)