World Wetlands Day 2005 -- Global Nature Fund

24/02/2005

Press Release by Global Nature Fund

World Wetlands Day on 2 February 2005:

Lake Victoria is the "Threatened Lake of the Year 2005"

Global Nature Fund raises attention for the ecological threats encountered by Africa's largest lake - over fishing and poverty are the major problems

Radolfzell, 27 January 2005: The East African Lake Victoria is the "Threatened Lake 2005", announces Global Nature Fund (GNF), an international foundation for the protection of environment and nature, in reference to the World Wetlands Day. GNF intends to draw attention to the drastic reduction of fish populations, the destruction of shoreline vegetation and wetlands as well as the increasing poverty of the people living around the lake. Lake Victoria, situated within the borders of Kenya, Tanzania und Uganda, is Africa's largest lake and comprises a surface area of 68,800 km2.

One of the most critical dangers is the over fishing in the lake. "There are 55,000 fishermen on the Kenyan side of the lake, which is twice the number recommended by experts", says Dr. Obiero Onganga of the environmental organisation OSIENALA, partner organisation of the Living Lakes network.

About 50 years ago the lake counted about 500 fish species. Some 200 species are said to be on the verge of extinction. Among those, about 24 formerly appeared on the local markets, whereas today only three are left. There are many reasons for this drastic decrease such as the significant eutrophication. Much of the nutrient load and other pollutants which stem from sewage and waste transported into the lake and comprise pollutants from the rapidly expanding urban areas and industries into the lake.

The introduction of the Nile perch led to a disruption of the ecology of the lake and resulted in loss of biodiversity as the fish devour the other fish species that otherwise were useful for stabilizing the nutrient balance of the lake. However, the fish has improved the economic status of the region as it is exported to Europe, Asia and North America. This fish, which weights up to 70 kg, was introduced in the 1960s and became an export-bestseller. As predator, the Nile perch has almost entirely exterminated his conspecifics throughout the last decades.

Nowadays, even the Nile perch population itself decreases rapidly - the amount of catches dropped from 175,000 tons to 110,000 tons in 2001. "Only a sustainable fishing effort and the support of traditional fishing techniques will prevent Lake Victoria from loosing his unique wealth", says Stefan Hörmann, project leader at GNF.

Population growth is another factor that has led to changes of the lake. Lake Victoria basin has a total population of approximately 26 million with a growth rate of around 3%, which is considerably higher in urban areas. The basin records the highest population density increase in the worlds rural areas. Most of the people live below the poverty line.

Extended lakeshore areas have been deforested to provide burning material and agricultural land. This destruction correlates with enhanced erosion and pollution processes around the lake and, in turn, destroys the habitats of numerous animals such as the rare papyrus feeding rhinoceros.

GNF is committed to counteract this development by supporting the use of solar energy for fishing and fish smoking, a project which is supported by the German Gesellschaft für technische Zusammenarbeit (gtz) and the foundation "Landesstiftung Baden Württemberg". Additionally, GNF aims at preserving the remaining shoreline vegetation as protected areas.

Background: The Global Nature Fund coordinates the international Living Lakes Network counting, beside Lake Victoria, 36 members world wide. The GNF partner organisation OSIENALA (Friends of Lake Victoria) focusses on the sustainable management of the lake which includes e.g. trainings in waste management for industries and Municipalities as well as micro financing efforts for the fishermen and their families. GNF's effort is essential within the framework of the World Wetlands Day, which takes place on the 2 February 2005. The day commemorates the signing of the Ramsar International Convention on Wetlands in Iran in 1971.

Contact details:
Global Nature Fund (GNF), Udo Gattenlöhner (Executive Director), Fritz-Reichle-Ring 4, 78315 Radolfzell, Germany
Tel: 0049 - 77 32 - 99 95 - 80 ; Fax: 0049 - 77 32 - 99 95 - 88
E-Mail: gattenloehner@globalnature.org
Webpage: www.globalnature.org, www.livingwetlands.org

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