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Standing on the steep rocky shores of Lake Tanganyika at sunset, looking out at fishermen heading out for their nightly lamp-boat fishing trips, it’s easy to imagine this immense 32,900km2 body of water as serene and unchanging. Located in the western branch of the great African Rift Valley it’s divided among four countries; Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Zambia. It’s one of the oldest lakes in the world, probably dating back about 10 million years.
That expanse of geological time has permitted literally hundreds
of unusual species of fish and invertebrates to evolve in isolation - organisms that are unique among the world’s lakes. Every day millions of people rely on the lake’s riches. But despite being a world class reservoir of biodiversity, food and economic activity, the lake is changing rapidly and may be facing a turbulent future.
Lake Tanganyika was recently declared the “Threatened Lake of 2017” – adversely affected by human activity in the form of climate change, deforestation, overfishing and hydrocarbon exploitation.
Beginning in the late 1980s scientists studying the lake began to notice significant and concerning changes caused by human activity. But at the time worldwide attention was focused on other African Great Lakes, particularly Lake Victoria where evidence was beginning to emerge of the enormous impact the Nile Perch – an introduced species – was having. The problems in Tanganyika were somewhat different.
Fortunately, no major exotic species introductions have occurred up to now. Instead, evidence shows that underwater habitat degradation is taking place adjacent to hill slopes. They are being rapidly deforested – converted to agricultural lands or for urban expansion –in the fast growing population centres around the lake. This activity has led to a rapid increase in the amount of loose sand and mud being washed into the lake which is smothering the lake floor.
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