A University of Leicester biologist has sounded an alarm bell amongst international conservationists by highlighting how an African 'natural paradise' is now in crisis.
Dr David Harper, of the University of Leicester Department of Biology, addressed the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City. His session was coordinated by the U.N. Environmental Program and UNESCO-International Hydrology Program (IHP).
Dr Harper highlighted how Lake Naivasha, Kenya's second largest lake, has shrunk to half its original size and its water level has dropped three metres. Vital wetlands, he said, are degraded beyond recognition.
Dr Harper, Principal Investigator of Earthwatch's Lakes of the Rift Valley project, has been investigating the ecology of Lake Naivasha for over two decades and he said action now needs to be taken urgently to save this natural site from further degradation. It is one of only a dozen of UNESCO "global ecohydrology demonstration sites."
Dr Harper said: "Lake Naivasha was once considered one of the world's top ten sites for birds and a paradise of clear water, with beautiful papyrus and water lily fringes. A haven for African wildlife and a major source of water for the lakeside's quickly growing population, the health of Lake Naivasha is critically important."
Dr Harper said there were three critical reasons for the lakes decline:
* Extraction of water for agriculture, horticulture, domestic and industrial supplies -Destruction of the vegetation at the lake edge by people, cattle, and buffalo -Spread of 'exotic' species, like the Louisiana crayfish, changing the lake food web
"These three factors combined mean the lake that remains has no natural buffer against the inflow of sediment and nutrients," said Harper. "The ever-smaller lake is becoming an over-enriched muddy pool, which shortly will become unusable through the development of toxic blue-green algae blooms. Its inflowing rivers, formerly sparkling and permanent, are now muddy and unpredictable."
Dr Harper's research, resulting in over 50 articles in scientific journals, has focused international attention on the Kenyan lake.
"Without Earthwatch's support we could only have achieved a fraction of any of this," said Harper. "Most scientific support lasts for 3 years, 5 years maximum. If we had had that kind of support, we could have put a larger team of scientists into the field for that brief period only. We would have achieved some good science, at the expense of understanding neither the lake nor the country."
Dr Harper has called for three initiatives to save the lake from ecological collapse:
* an upper limit on basin extraction must be agreed * the lake wetlands and riparian vegetation in the basin must be restored to functionality * an educational campaign encouraging the principles of ecohydrology and the real value of water to all basin inhabitants
He has suggested that the restoration can be funded by paying for the "ecosystem services" of the lake. Nowhere in the world is water from one lake basin used to supply drinking water to two basins, electricity to a whole country's grid and flowers & vegetables to a whole continent (Europe). Payment for ecosystem services is a rapidly developing economic means of restoring biodiversity around the globe. The price added to a rose or a bean would be a fraction of a cent.
The World Water Forum is an initiative of the World Water Council that has the aim of raising the awareness on water issues all over the world. As the main international event on water, it seeks to enable multi-stakeholder participation and dialogue to influence water policy making at a global level, thus assuring better living standards for people all over the world and more responsible social behaviour towards water issues.
Earthwatch Institute is a global volunteer organization that supports scientific field research by offering members of the public unique opportunities to work alongside leading field scientists and researchers. Earthwatch's mission is to engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment. The year 2006 marks Earthwatch's 35th anniversary.
For more information on how to volunteer on Earthwatch's Lakes of the Rift Valley project, go to http://www.earthwatch.org/expeditions/harper.html
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