Atlas of Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas in South Africa

Type of tool

Planning tool


The CSIR and a number of partners have produced an atlas of South Africa’s rivers, lakes, pans and wetlands, and have identified which are the most important to keep in a healthy state for water security and the sustainability of the entire freshwater ecosystem network. This assessment also identifies the institutional basis and management strategies required to effectively conserve these water resources. The Atlas of Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas in South Africa is the output of the National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (NFEPA) project.
Photograph by: Thomas Peschak/WWF-SA, cover design by: Loretta Steyn Graphic Design Studio

Consistent with global trends, high levels of threat have been reported for freshwater ecosystems, with over half of South Africa’s river and wetland ecosystem types considered threatened in the National Biodiversity Assessment 2011 (Nel et al. 2011). South Africa’s freshwater fauna also display high levels of threat with at least one third of freshwater fish indigenous to South Africa reported as threatened, and a recent southern African study on the conservation status of major freshwater-dependent taxonomic groups (fishes, molluscs, dragonflies, crabs and vascular plants) reported far higher levels of threat in South Africa than in the rest of the region (Darwall et al. 2009).

Urgent attention is needed to ensure that we conserve some natural examples of the different ecosystems that make up the natural heritage of this country for current and future generations. The National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas project (NFEPA) responds to this need, providing strategic spatial priorities for conserving South Africa’s freshwater ecosystems and supporting sustainable use of water resources.



A review and synthesis of existing datasets and ‘on-the-ground’ knowledge with regional expert workshops and national stakeholder workshops. A systematic conservation planning approach was used for determining the spatial areas of importance.


National; covers all freshwater bodies separated into water catchment (watershed) areas in South Africa.

Please download the PDF Guide


The NFEPA maps can be viewed on the SANBI’s Biodiversity GIS (BGIS) website in a pared down geographical information interface. On the BGIS webpage for NFEPA the maps and metadata are easily accessible at the average internet user’s proficiency level and requires no specialist knowledge, skill set or programme. The maps are also available for download as shapefiles for users who are competent with GIS software.


In the absence of a direct link, navigating to the NFEPA maps from the BGIS homepage is surprisingly difficult.


Funding description

Jointly funded by the CSIR, South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Water Research Commission (WRC), Department of Environmental Affairs, Department of Water Affairs, Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) and South African National Parks (SANParks).


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Fragile Ecosystems
Water Management


resource management
National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas
South African National Biodiversity Institute
Water Research Commission
Department of Environmental Affairs

Country where the tool is in use

South Africa

Target audience

Intended users of NFEPA products include: the national departments of Water Affairs and Environmental Affairs, Catchment Management Agencies and their associated stakeholders, SANBI, SANParks, bioregional programmes, provincial conservation authorities, provincial environmental affairs departments, national and provincial departments of agriculture, the Department of Mineral Resources, municipalities, NGOs, conservancies and environmental consultants.