What To Know About Africa’s Most Endangered Fish


| LAST UPDATE 03/11/2022

By Hayden Katz
sandfish cape town extinct
Anadolu Agency / Contributor via Getty Images

Back in the day, when August rolled around in South Africa, the Clanwilliam sandfish typically started swimming upwards to spawn en masse. There was a time when there was a countless amount of these silverfish. But unfortunately, today, they have become one of the most threatened sea animals in the southwest corner of the country. Here's how experts are trying to stop the Clanwilliam sandfish from going extinct.

"There were so many sandfish they would make a wave," revealed Sarah Fransman, a long-time resident of an area near the Doring River, "The whole school would stretch from one side of the river to the other." She recalled the time when there were plentiful sandfish in the ocean. Yet, sadly according to Jeremy Shelton, a conservation biologist, at the Freshwater Research Centre, in Cape Town last year, there were less than 200 of the silverfish reported being swimming in the Doring up towards Biedouw - the area where they spawned. 

sandfish extinct sea species
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These water creatures are a necessary part of the aqua ecosystem because not only do they consume organic matter, but they are also prey for many other animals, including the African clawless otters. The balance of the system was disturbed because, in recent years, a new animal was brought into the area. The North American sportfish pose a threat because they are the ones who eat sandfish, reported Shelton. Along with the help of another National Geographic Explorer, Otto Whitehead, Shelton has created a project dedicated to saving the lives of these torpedo-shaped fish, known as "Saving Sandfish." The goal is to take the fish from Biedouw and raise them in an area where no predators will be able to harm them. Once they'd be big enough to survive alone, they would then be released back into their natal stream in Cape Town.

The project began in 2018, and the team has already taken around 15,000 juvenile sandfish into a predator-free zone. In September 2021, roughly 1,300 sandfish were released back into the Biedouw. Shelton has explained that the goal is for the sea animal to swim back to the Doring and come back upstream to the Biedouw again the following year. The Clanwilliam sandfish is “an ambassador for the whole river system in a way that no other fish is,” explained Cecilia Cerrilla, a doctoral student at the University of Cape Town. Stay tuned for more updates.

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