BIOS6723 – River Basin Ecosystem Management – Intersection of water, ecosystems and Governance (Botswana field course)

The course in brief

This is an intensive field course (10 days, 6 unit of credit course) focused on the management of one of the world’s most spectacular ecosystems – the Okavango Delta World Heritage site in Botswana. Upstream pressures to build dams and withdraw water threaten the entire ecosystem. In this course, we partner with Kings College London and Arizona State University (our PLuS Alliance partners) and hopefully the University of Botswana, and so we expect to have students from these institutions resulting in a diverse mix of students and competition for the few places available (last year 6 UNSW students). The course has run very successfully over the past two years, with students gaining a very rewarding learning experience. The course is jointly coordinated by Professor Richard Kingsford, Dr Neil Jordan and Dr Keith Leggett from BEES and also academics from Arizona State University and Kings College London.  

Video of students sampling water quality, surveying birds and land mammals (elephant in the distance) in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

 Here are some of UNSW student reflections from last year:

 “Walking along the road in front of camp to have a look at spoor, and the information you can infer. I didn’t realise how unique elephant footprints are, allowing you to identify individuals from their tracks.” Jess Schembri

“Today we were on the boat and realised the great biodiversity of the region. I found the hippo paths which are used by elephants and buffalo and other animals as an extraordinary relationship between organisms and environment in the ecosystem”. Alex Ingall

“The practical field component of this course was the most educational for me personally. A vital thing that we learnt as a team was that planning ahead and being organised with how we were going to collect the data was extremely important”. Scarlett Li-Williams

“The need to respect individual stakeholder perspectives was made clear throughout the trip. In order for decision makers to create policies that will work, there needs to be an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of each stakeholder’s view. Without listening to and balancing these needs, effective policy cannot be established”. Tim Russell





Click here to see more photos from the 2018 Botswana Field Trip

You will need to arrive in Maun (Botswana) on Saturday 29 June 2019, with a field trip into the Okavango Delta soon after. We return to Maun and you will leave on Tuesday 09 July 2019. This will be in the field trip break in week 5, Term 2.  From 2020 will be week 6, Term 2.


We have tried to constrain costs as much as possible for this incredible opportunity. Costs are divided into ‘field work costs’, ‘tuition fees’ and ‘other’.

Field work costs

You will need to pay field work costs ($1,800) by Wednesday 01 May to the BSB Office. This covers your return flight from Maun into the Okavango Delta ($440), food, accommodation, equipment and transport ($1360).

Tuition fees

Please see

Please note: Your tuition costs for the corresponding enrolment in this unit at UNSW are not covered under the Field Work Costs and are additional to any cost associated with this opportunity.


You will need to organise and pay for your own return trip from Sydney to Maun (Botswana), through Johannesburg (South Africa). Our estimates are about $2,581 for the return trip.

Application to enrol

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

1. Email the following documents to 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 field work costs of the course (airfare to and from Botswana organised by yourself and $1800 field trip fees)
c) Your academic transcript
d) Your CV

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

3. 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 field work costs and tuition fees if they apply.

4. 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 field trip break during week 5. There is limited capacity in this course: preference will be given to high performing students in relevant Programs or Majors.  Please view Course Outline for more informaiton about course structure.


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. BIOS6723 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.

Video of the Okavango Delta which is an intricate network of swamps and islands where the incredible range of biodiversity, including predators, their prey and river animals and plants interact

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 during week 5 of session in term 2. The majority of this course is taught during the intensive field course but the assessment will continue during term during term 2. This will alleviate pressures on university resources and students during peak periods during the term.

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.