Thursday, 22 October 2009

First ever UNESCO World Aquatic Heritage site in Malawi

UNESCO's first ever aquatic heritage site includes Lake Malawi which has some 250 unique fish species, holds an incredible 1000 of the world's 20,000 known fish species.


MANGOCHI, MALAWI (OCTOBER 19, 2009) REUTERS - The Galapagos islands are to Latin America what Lake Malawi is to Africa.
Christened as the world's first fresh water national park in 1980, Lake Malawi National Park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984, mainly due to the fact that it boasts more species of fish than any other lake in the world.

Around five percent of the world's fish species - 1,000 out of 20,000 - are found in Lake Malawi, making its waters crucial for the study of marine life evolution.

Lake Malawi's 29,600 square kilometers makes it the third largest lake on the continent.

Indigenous to Lake Malawi is the Cichlid, a clourful medium-sized fish whose species number between 1,300 and 3,000.

Although new species are constantly discovered, 156 cichlid species are currently listed as vulnerable, 40 species are listed as endangered, while 69 species are listed as critically endangered.

There is also rich birdlife on Lake Malawi including the African fish eagle.

The park itself and the lake's two largest islands, Likoma and Chizumulu, contain five villages.

"It is very unique in the sense that this is the only national park in the country that has got villages inside the park. And Chembe is one of the biggest villages that is found in Lake Malawi National Park. There are about five villages with a total population of about 25,000 people and these people depend on park resources for their own survival," explained Joe Chinguwo, an education and enviromental officer in the park.

A number of the park's human residents make their living from tourists and have enjoyed their home's prominence in the world of conservation.

"We are always happy to receive tourists and visitors from all over the world. We have a lot to showcase within this heritage site. I am happy, as a businessman that many people are now coming here," said boat operator Andrew Njikho.

Lake Malawi national park officers do not just take care of what is in the water. They are equally conscious of conserving the surrounding mainland to avoid sediment building up in the water, which could ultimately be fatal to the fish.

"Apart from conserving the Mbuna (Cichlid) which is in the water, we also conserve the mainland, the trees so that we avoid siltation of our lake," said Chinguwo.

In the late 1970s, siltation caused by deforestation and the introduction of new species caused the disappearance of 80% cichlid fish in East Africa's Lake Victoria, a situation which Lake Malawi is determined to avoid.