Lake Victoria wetlands in grave danger – experts

Friday, July 15th, 2022 10:20 | By
Fishermen in Mahanga Beach in Mageta Island in Siaya county remove plastic wastes in Lake Victoria on February 28, 2021. PD/VIOLA KOSOME
Fishermen in Mahanga Beach in Mageta Island in Siaya county remove plastic wastes in Lake Victoria on February 28, 2021. PD/VIOLA KOSOME

The wetlands along the shores of Lake Victoria in the three East African Community (EAC) partner States are shrinking at an alarming rate.

This trend, if not checked, could portend a bleak future where plastics have been projected to replace the fish stocks in the shared water mass by 2050.

Researchers have warned that continued destruction of the wetlands which are the breeding sites of fish species, specifically omena (sardines), tilapia and Nile Perch, could have catastrophic consequences.

It is in this light that the residents of Lake Victoria Basin have been cautioned to either change their behaviour or risk having huge piles of plastics which threaten to destroy the second largest freshwater lake in the world.

The phenomena of the upwelling of Lake Victoria, which has been described as a national occurrence not related in any way to poisoning where the fisher folk resorted to using illegal means to catch mainly Nile Perch which died en-masse, has sent danger signals.

Patrick Otuo, a Socio-Economist Research scientist with Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) emphasizes that unregulated fishing has contributed immensely to the destruction of the environment and the various fish species in the shared water mass.

Otuo observed that plastics do not add value to Lake Victoria or any other water body but during the upwelling (when Lake Victoria swells and reclaims its space), the phenomenon denies fish the much-needed oxygen levels required for breeding purposes.

“This has been compounded by the stress attributed to the ever-increasing human population, which has exacerbated the numerous challenges facing the environmentalists and all those whose livelihood depends wholly on Lake Victoria,” explained the lead scientist.

The revelations came to the fore early this week when journalists affiliated with Media for Environment Science Health and Agriculture (MESHA), Kisumu Chapter, teamed up with colleagues from other regions to assess the impact of destruction of riparian land has had on Western Kenya Tourism Circuit.

Fish cages

Naftali Mwirigi, a researcher with Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), explained to the team the levels of Lake Victoria in relation to climate change as one of the reasons behind drastic changes in the rainfall patterns ranging from 10-20 cubic metres.

Mwirigi pointed out that some of the fish bandas which were located right inside the lake and adjacent to the many fish cages five years ago and were easily accessible have since been submerged owing to the upwelling of the Lake Victoria water body.

“Human beings have been encroaching on the shorelines (riparian) areas of the lake which is expected to be 30 metres from the lake but with the increased climate changes, it is projected that we could continue to experience the raging effects of the lake seeking to reclaim its rightful space,” he explained.

This has gone a long way in explaining the circumstances in which many who have built commercial and residential structures along the shores of the lake on pieces of riparian land grabbed and ended up constructing permanent perimeter walls right inside the lake.

Perhaps this goes a long way to explain why various stakeholders have called for the demarcation of the wetlands and entire riparian areas so as to curb further encroachment of the resources in all the EAC partner states surrounding Lake Victoria.

He revealed that already there is an ongoing mapping process to cover the entire 5,000 square kilometres, to minimise the extensive destruction of the riparian areas mostly attributed to hoteliers and individuals, who have extended their perimeter walls right inside the lake.

“The mapping should have been done earlier and as we move into the future. Failure to do so will dent the efforts to grow our Blue Economy by way of nurturing water sport activities, maritime transport and general fishing on Lake Victoria,” said Mwirigi.

Heavy metals

He said anthropogenic pollution (attributed to human activities), raw effluent (industries and human settlements) and harmful algae bloom attributed to Eutrophication (colonies of algae grow out of control producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, marine mammals and birds) posed a danger to the lake. The other areas of concern include heavy metals and sediments on the floor of the lake.

Kisumu County Director of Environment Tom Togo emphasised the need to regulate development activities around the lake. This, he said, will greatly protect the wetland and the lake ecosystem.

Togo made the remarks during interviews with MESHA journalists with a focus on pollution as a result of soil erosion and activities downstream getting enriched with phosphorus which has facilitated the growth of algae.

He disclosed that National Environment Management Agency (Nema) had formed community committees involving users of fertilisers and herbicides among other chemicals, with a view to punishing those who circumvent the law and polluters through deterrent convictions in courts.

Nema County Director said it was unfortunate that no single wetland has been gazetted and so the need to fast-track the issuance of title deeds to protect the resources. Subsequently, Togo urged the media and County Assembly to move swiftly in order to fast-track the exercise.

He said that there is a need for those neighbouring Lake Victoria to learn to co-exist with the shared water mass warning that as we clear the bedroom (wetlands) we will in essence be destroying the resource and thus “killing the goose that lays the golden egg”.                                                           

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