Ecologist explores mysteries of ‘water towers’ in Okavango Delta

“The lands at the end of the world”. This is how it was defined by the first Portuguese who set foot in the highlands of Angola, which, according to ecologist and explorer Steve Boyles, are the sources of the main rivers that supply water to the south of the continent African. The mission that Boyle has pursued for decades is to know and protect the Okavango Delta and its river systems.

“I never wanted to be anything other than an explorer and conservationist,” said Boyles, a National Geographic Society explorer and project manager for the “Great Spine of Africa” expeditions. CNN.

In 2001, he decided to stop writing his master’s thesis and focus on what mattered most to him: “For the next decade, my world revolved around the Okavango Delta. I couldn’t think of anything else. I didn’t want to leave there.

His work introduced the world to the Okavango Delta. “We are the first to document these river systems. And when I say document, we establish basic criteria for rivers from an ecological and hydrological point of view,” he says.

Dive into the Okavango Delta

Boyles worked to have the Okavango Delta declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and succeeded. “Many considered it impossible to do research in Angola after the war,” Boyles recalls. But it wasn’t impossible.

And what they found was different from what they expected.

“The most renowned scientists, geologists and hydrologists have told us that these are seasonal wetlands. And when we arrived, we found an ancient crystal clear lake with acidic waters. We realized that it was surrounded and fed by peatlands (vital and powerful ecosystems). None of this was known,” he says.

Ecologist and explorer Steve Boyles / Reproduction/CNN

And he continues: “We crossed the entire Okavango River basin to the Kalahari Desert, beyond the Okavango Delta, following the water to its mouth, exploring the whole structure of its ” Water tower “. However, in this context, a “Water Tower” is not a wooden structure on the roof of a building in São Paulo. It is a forest basin, very rainy, with a large water storage capacity thanks to the peatlands.”

He likens it to a “giant sponge” that is held together “by the forests that protect the water – they receive the rain and spread it into peat bogs that hold the water for thousands of years.”

Water towers, the key to the future

The conservationist highlights the exceptional value of “Water Towers” ​​which, according to his assessment, allow places in Africa to have megafauna and the enormous natural spaces they have.

The first explorers called this region, which is home to exceptional wildlife, “the lands at the end of the world” / Reproduction/CNN

“Africa has been able to balance these naturally occurring climate fluctuations in the past because of this storage capacity that exists naturally in these high altitude springs. These water towers are fundamental to our future. They are unexplored, there are no topographical studies, and in many cases they are scientifically poorly understood. And that is our main goal in the Great Spine of Africa expeditions,” he says.

For them, it is essential to understand river currents and the importance and nature of water sources. “And then working with the local community, who are already our guides on all expeditions, so that they can protect these places in the future,” he explains.

“A new focus of endemism is emerging. Previously unknown large-scale water towers, peat bogs and lakes are documented for the first time in the 21st century. And this is the reality of exploration at the beginning of the 21st century,” he assures.

Edited by: Raquel Cintra