BRT5 Environmental DNA study

One thing that makes BRT different from other river conservation projects is how we combine adventure sports to science and nature conservation to expose the problem of dams, give a voice to the rivers and those fighting for them and also work towards solutions and alternatives.

So, we are excited to say that during BRT5, we were performing an exciting environmental DNA study (eDNA)*, using this cutting-edge technology with the help of renowned ichthyology experts, to do the following:

  • Create the first ever complete eDNA sampling of the Sava River in Slovenia.
  • Deliver a map of the general presence of Natura 2000 species along the Sava River in Slovenia.
  • Comparative study of fish biodiversity levels in reservoirs and free flowing stretches.
  • Article(s) published in renown academic journals.
  • Uniting fish experts with the goal of providing data to help fight the proposed dams.
  • Bridge the gap between science, activism and nature conservation and expose this in mainstream local, national and international media.

Environmental DNA is a modern research technique performed by molecular biologists. During Balkan Rivers Tour 5 our team was taking eDNA samples from strategic and pre determined locations along the 258 km of the Sava River in Slovenia. This was done from the seat of our kayaks, pumping water through special filters to catch fragments of organic matter, which will later be used to identify DNA present in that body of water. Now, after the tour, experts are analyzing the samples, checking for presence of Natura 2000 species (for instance Danube salmon Hucho hucho), which will help us to be actively involved in the legal processes for protecting the Sava River and tributaries in the follow up phase of Balkan Rivers Tour 5.

We have pulled together an impressive crew of internationally recognized experts who have come together to make up our team, leading the design of the study as well as the data analysis and follow-up. They are Aleš Snoj (fish conservation geneticist, University of Ljubljana), David Stanković (eDNA expert from Slovenian National Institute for Biology) and Nejc Bravničar (Ph.D. student at University of Ljubljana, using genomic data for conservation purposes).

The findings from our resarch will be made available to any NGO, students or researchers who are working towards the protection of the Sava catchment. Our intention is that this study will help small, local NGO’s by providing a base line of data that can be used as the foundation for further, in depth research.

The act of paddling a large stretch of the river makes BRT5 a unique vehicle for scientific studies. And it was pretty fun too.