River Basin Ecosystem Management (BIOS6723)

River Basin Ecosystem Management (BIOS6723)

River Basin Ecosystem Management (BIOS6723)

The course in brief

This is an intensive field course (10 days, 6 unit course) to one of the world’s most spectacular ecosystems – the Okavango Delta in Botswana. We are partnering with Kings College London and also Arizona State University (our PLuS Alliance partners https://www.plusalliance.org/ ) and so we expect to have students also from these institutions with relatively few places available (last year 11 UNSW students). We ran the course very successfully last year and students had a very rewarding learning experience. Here are some of their reflections:

“I learned that whilst bringing a group of stakeholders together for a river management conference sounds like a great way to make decisions, it is almost impossible to agree upon management strategies and the necessary compromises”  Madelaine Langley (z5016906)

“We learnt that if Namibia and Angola were as cooperative as they were in our arguments there could be a much better agreement reached” Catlin Creak (z5304809)

” While on lunch break from the river boat survey, I learned what all the groups of animals are called- including a dazzle of zebras, a business of mongoose, a tower of giraffe and a sounder of warthog, also ‘the ugly 5’ of Africa, the one that stuck out was the marabou stork as we had just had one fly over our heads” Mackenzie Kidd (z5059701)

“Hyenas have the strongest bite force of any mammal and that they are not always scavengers, they are skilful predators. The footprints of canines have claw marks and only two lobes on the rear of heel pads, whilst cats normally have no claw marks (since most cats can retract their claws) and they have three lobes on the rear of the heel pads” Georgia Badgery (z5131018)  




You will need to arrive in Maun (Botswana) on the 10th July 2018, with a field trip into the Okavango Delta soon after, to return to Maun and leave on the 20th July 2018.


We have tried to constrain costs as much as possible for this incredible opportunity. Our estimates are about $2,581 for return trip from Sydney to Maun (Botswana), through Johannesburg (South Africa), plus $440 for return airfare from Maun into the Okavango Delta and $1360 dollars covering food, accommodation, equipment and transport. If you are enrolling in the course, you will need to pay course costs ($1,800) by 31st May to the BSB Office and you will be responsible for your return airfare. In total, this would be about $4,400.

Application to enrol

You will need to do the following if you would like to do this course. 

  1. Email the following documents to beesinfo[at]unsw.edu.au. The course coordinators will be in touch as soon as possible to confirm whether you are accepted into the course.

a) ​200 word summary of why you would like to do the course
b) A short confirmation sentence that you are aware and are able to meet the costs of the course (airfare to and from Botswana (your own organisation) and $1800 course fees)
c) Your transcript
d) Your CV

  1. If you are accepted to enrol, you will need to pay course costs of $1800 to the BSB Office. We will arrange a mechanism for you to do this. 

  2. Buy a return airfare to Maun in Botswana (via Johannesburg), you will have to also stay a night in Johannesburg for the connecting flight. You are responsible for organising this and the costs.

  3. Attend briefings about the logistics of the course when required. We will attempt to make sure that these are timed so that you can attend. 

Third year field course in detail- UNSW

This course is an intensive field-based course located in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, one of the world’s hotspots of biodiversity and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has extensive wetland systems with diverse waterbird populations, vegetation communities, the largest population of elephants in Africa and large predators, including lions and leopards. This diverse ecosystem lies at the end of one of the world’s last few large free-flowing rivers. This course will involve non-government and government managers involved in practical concepts of river basin ecosystem conservation, management and governance. Students will acquire an advanced understanding of the politics, governance and management of river basin ecosystem science, by unpacking the geopolitical constraints and considerations shaping the Delta’s management. It receives most of its water from Angola with the Okavango River then flowing through Namibia to Botswana. Participants will gain skills in field methods, ecosystem scale landscape analyses and their application to human/wildlife interactions. They will contribute to long-term collection of data for the management of the river basin. The overall aim of the course is to tackle a global challenge in a developing country of the world, focusing on sustainability of biological and abiotic processes within the context of human drivers of development. It uses the Okavango River Delta as a case study but compares this to Australian systems, particularly the Lake Eyre Basin.

Assumed knowledge: BIOS1101, BIOS1301, BIOS2123; BEES2041.

This course involves compulsory field-work in Botswana, at the expense of individual students. The course is intended to run in the pre-semester 2 recess. There is limited capacity in this course: preference will be given to high performing students in relevant Programs or Majors.




BIOS6723 River Basin Ecosystem Management is an upper level course, designed as a third year course but is coded so that it is available for post-graduate coursework students.

BIOS6723 is predominantly a field-based course, which will address advanced concepts associated with river basin ecosystem conservation, management and governance challenges for rivers and their dependent large wetlands generally. BIOS2123 will result in advanced practical training in current river basin ecosystem conservation and management. 

The course uses Africa as a key case study and will focus on Botswana’s Okavango delta, one of the largest inland delta systems south of the equator and one of the few large free-flowing rivers of the world. This importance was recognised recently when the Okavango delta was proclaimed the 1000th UNSECO world heritage site. The management and conservation of the delta is dependent on international agreements and collaboration between three countries covering the catchment area: it hence makes an excellent global case-study.

Students will acquire an advanced understanding of the politics, governance and management of river basin ecosystem science by unpacking the geopolitical constraints and considerations shaping its management. Students will be exposed to practical experience and insight by developing a catchment scale management plan and will examine biological, abiotic and human drivers of sustainability. In the field, students will sample river ecosystem indicators, integrate these with ecosystem scale landscape analyses, including understanding the role of environmental flow management.

This course has also been designed with several international partnerships in mind. This includes participation by Plus Alliance Partnership students. This course is also supported by the UNSW Global Water Institute and will use new research initiatives developing in the School of BEES including the Okavango River Basin Commission. Local expertise will be used in this course as partnerships develop.


In summary BIOS6723 will offer a globally unique opportunity to expose UNSW students to international and cross-border issues associated with ecosystem conservation and management. This course has been specifically designed to address a need in the School of BEES relating to Program 3965 Environmental Management: this is the second course that specifically focuses on environmental management.

The aims of BIOS6723 River Basin Ecosystem Management are:

1) To provide students with the opportunity for advanced training in river basin conservation and management using case studies from Africa and Australia;

2) To consider the political, governance and management scale and constraints of river basin conservation management, and learn directly about these challenges in Botswana;

3) To gain practical international experience in river basin ecosystem monitoring including the implementation of survey techniques on wetlands and their directly dependent (i.e. aquatic biota) and indirectly dependent (terrestrial animals that require water, e.g. elephants), and recognise the challenges of environmental flow management;

4) To understand the data and scale requirements for modelling large river basin ecosystems, identifying dependent ecosystem values and services;

5) Provide an understanding of the role and complexity of collaborative approaches to river basin ecosystem conservation and management through the development of an adaptive river basin management plan, built on a hierarchy of values, which identifies the management objectives, key stakeholders and response indicators.

The introduction of BIOS6723 is motivated by the need for alternative innovative practical courses that provide opportunities for the application of theoretical concepts, and develop an international perspective on truly global issues. Water and its management represents one of the grand challenges for societies all over the world in pursuit of sustainability. This course will target students interested in conservation management within Program 3965 Environmental Management and Biological Science, Ecology and Geography Majors in Science and Advanced Science. In future it is possible that BIOS6723 will also target relevantly skilled students from external international institutions including Botswana nationals through the University of Botswana. This will provide UNSW students with a truly international perspective, and local insight into the geopolitical landscape of river basin management. The aim is to provide a unique course providing exemplary education of international relevance.

In recent years, there have been too few places available to offer all undergraduate students the experience of longer, more intensive field work situations, under unique and challenging working and learning conditions, which expose them to realities and practicalities of environmental management. UNSW is in a unique position in having long-term relationships with Botswana NGO’s, particularly the Elephants Without Borders program (supported by an MOU) which has hosted a number of PhD students supervised by Dr Keith Leggett, and the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, through Dr Neil Jordan and students. UNSW has a strong track record in ecosystem research, particularly river basin ecosystems conservation and management through the work of Prof. Richard Kingsford, Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science. This course fills that gap and precedes and complements a second year elective course BIOS2123, which includes aspects of river ecosystem conservation and management in Australia. The course is supported by the Centre for Ecosystem Science, one of the four major centres in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences. It has a strong applied ecology and environmental science focus.

BIOS6723 will teach applied practical skills required in river basin management as well as asking students to apply acquired knowledge to a practical challenges in this field. These include developing a river basin ecological monitoring plan. Students will also acquire a clear understanding of river basin ecosystem science by completing field-based tasks including conducting field surveys of river basin ecosystem indicator species. This course allows students to apply academically taught concepts to actual conservation management strategies and will produce well-rounded, industry-ready graduates.


The field work component of BIOS6723 will be held out of session, before the beginning of semester 2. The majority of this course is taught during the intensive field course but the assessment will continue into session 2. This will alleviate pressures on university resources and students during peak periods in semester.

BIOS6723 will encourage a holistic view of river basin ecosystem management by covering, hands-on, the challenges associated with an international approach to ecosystem conservation management. It will include the roles played and challenges faced by governments and communities catchment-wide. Students will work directly with UNSW academics and industry partners from NGOs, local government. This co-operative learning approach between UNSW, university partners, non-government partners and government itself places UNSW at the forefront of river basin ecosystem management and education, and provides insight into the multi-faceted approach that river basin conservation requires. This course allows students to gain invaluable experience and course credit in real-life conservation contexts and provides contacts for future higher-degree learning opportunities (i.e. Honours or PhD programs). The course also aims to provide a social dividend through the inclusion of Botswana students from the University of Botswana.

Our intention to create a separate course focusing on river basin conservation and management is motivated by the following expected benefits:

- BIOS6723 is a course that provides industry experience and the opportunity to apply theoretical concepts, and produces industry-ready graduates focused on current river basin management challenges;

- BIOS6723 will encourage students to adopt a holistic view of river basin management which is relevant to Australia as well as internationally;

- BIOS6723 will adopt a whole-catchment scale approach to management of a wetland ecosystem, including governance and multiple stakeholders, reflecting the considerable complexity of managing large scale social-ecological ecosystems.

- BIOS6723 will provide a thorough understanding and practical experience in river basin conservation and management, expanding concepts taught in the second year course BIOS2123 Ecosystem Conservation and Management.

Research Program: 
River Management
Wetland Dynamics
Ecosystem Dynamics
Research Themes: 
Rivers and Wetlands
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