IFC and the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal (CMDN) are developing and testing new technologies to better understand fish and their migratory patterns. This could help hydropower companies be more accurate in their environmental and social impact assessments (ESIAs) and improve sustainability of their operations.
In March 2018, IFC and CMDN started a test project using innovative Environmental DNA technologies – commonly known as eDNA – in the rivers of the Himalayas. The project focused on the documentation of fish species in Nepal’s Trishuli River Basin, an area where an IFC-sponsored hydropower project is in its early stages of development.
“eDNA technologies are non-invasive, dramatically improving genetic monitoring of biodiversity,” said Leeanne Alonso, IFC Biodiversity Specialist based in DC. “With a single scoop of water, enough genetic materials can now be collected, likely influencing the future of how hydropower projects document fish.”
eDNA allows researchers to identify species present in a river by sampling and analyzing the genetic material (DNA) that is shed into the water through metabolic wastes, damaged tissue or lost scales.
IFC and CMDN’s work is part of a cumulative impact assessment designed to better understand the impacts of multiple hydropower projects on ecological and social aspects of the basin. eDNA will be used to identify fish for conservation, commercial and cultural significance. The information gathered from the cumulative impact assessment will also be used for the ESIAs of Trishuli-1 hydropower project and Super Trishuli hydropower project, and potentially others on the Trishuli River.
Between March and April 2018, IFC and a team of about 20 researchers headed to the Trishuli River to test the eDNA methodology and to compare its efficiency to traditional fish sampling methods. The field team included molecular biologists from CMDN, fish and invertebrate ecologists from Kathmandu University, fish biologists from IFC’s partner Hagler Bailly Pakistan, IFC ecologists, and six Nepalese student interns.
The team sampled seven sites across the Trishuli Basin. At each of the sites, they filtered eight water samples for eDNA analysis, sampled fish using cast and gill nets, sampled macroinvertebrates and periphyton (algae) and measured water quality including water temperature, dissolved oxygen levels, pH and turbidity.
Over the next two months, the eDNA samples will be analyzed at the CMDN laboratory. Subsequently, the results will be compiled into a final report. A key component of this work is to focus on information sharing between the scientists and the Nepalese students.
In Nepal, there has been some progress with regard to environmental and social policy and regulation on hydropower. However, as Kate Lazarus, IFC Senior Operations Officer and Environmental and Social Hydro Advisory Program Team Lead shared, “Understanding environmental and social risks are still largely, up to the private sector to advance sustainability. With improved technologies such as eDNA, hydropower companies in Nepal could take a lead to help ensure healthier rivers and secure the future of migratory fish populations.”
To learn more about IFC’s work to help advance sustainability in Nepal’s hydropower sector, visit: www.ifc.org/hydroadvisory