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Lake Victoria, The Source River Nile.

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The lake was named after Queen Victoria by the explorer John Hanning Speke, the first Briton to document it. Speke accomplished this in 1858, while on an expedition with Richard Francis Burton to locate the source of the Nile River.

With a surface area of approximately 68,800 square kilometres (26,600 sq miles) Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake by area, the world’s largest tropical lake, and the world’s second largest fresh water lake by surface area, after Lake Superior in North America. In terms of volume, Lake Victoria is the world’s ninth largest continental lake, containing about 2,750 cubic kilometres  of water. As the lake is moderately shallow, its volume is evidently less in comparison to other great lakes in the African region having considerably smaller surface areas, the source of River Nile starts its journey from Jinja and meanders through Bujagali falls and drains in Lake Kyoga. It then cuts a passage West across karuma Falls. It follows the narrow passage of Murchison Falls towards Lake Albert through Uganda, Sudan and finally settles in Egypt.

Lake Victoria receives its water primarily from direct rainfall and thousands of small streams. The Kagera River is the largest river flowing into this lake, with its mouth on the lake’s western shore. Lake Victoria is drained solely by the Nile River near Jinja, Uganda, on the lake’s northern shore. The source of the Nile and the heart of that pumps the nutrients to Egyptians farms boasts of a multinational origins, the lake rests between three countries namely, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Scattered along the beautiful shores of Lake Victoria, there are approximately 84 secluded clusters of islands, known as the Ssese islands. These islands have become a major source of tourist attraction, thanks to their exhilarating natural environs, exotic wildlife, flora and fauna. All the islands are significantly different from each other, in terms of their shape, size, and vegetation including people and wildlife.

Lake Victoria concavely lies in between the western part of Albertine Rift and the eastern segment of Great Rift Valley giving it an immense pressure to feed a population currently running above 35 million people spread among the different countries.  This has resorted to government intervention to control fishing at some period and more so to control the sizes of fishes that can’t be taken out of the fragile ecosystem. In the 1980s and 1990s Lake Victoria was the site of a fishing boom. Diners in Europe, Asia, and North America paid hefty sums for the succulent white flesh of the Nile perch that had come to dominate the lake since its introduction by British colonizers in the 1950s. Nile tilapia, which was even tastier, was exported around east and central Africa. Tens of thousands of fishermen flocked to the lake to take advantage of the gold rush.

In my observations, the introduction of Nile perch into Lake Victoria is the worst single environmental disaster in human history: over 300 species of fish were driven extinct by the newly introduced predator. And while the perch generated jobs and revenue, it also generated famine: as Nile perch fillet could be sold to Europe, it was too expensive for the local population (who previously had subsisted on the smaller species of fish driven extinct by the Nile perch).  Now that the fishermen have, through overfishing, managed to crash the stock of Nile perch, some of the native species of the lake which were teetering on the edge of extinction, are actually making a comeback. We need to save the source of the Nile, just before the Egyptian farmer starts to suffer for if the source of the Nile dries up the Nile might be shrinking.

Lake Victoria illustrates one of the quintessential dilemmas of today’s world: how much short-term gain can humans continue to seek out of a system that is being driven to a potential breaking point? Despite pollution from agriculture and mining and sewage, altered water flows from dam building, invasive fishes and plants, and the pressure of millions of people living on its shores, Lake Victoria continues to produce nearly 1 million tons of fish each year that contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the economies of Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. Nile perch is an important export commodity, while Nile tilapia and dagaa are important sources of local food security.  And then there are the cichlids: small, colorful fish found in hobbyist aquariums around the world, that are incredibly important to the health of Lake Victoria, and whose evolutionary history is as marvelous as Darwin’s finches. But fish catch has stagnated while the human population, and hence the number of people fishing and eating fish around the lake, continues to increase rapidly.

Indeed for us to save the future, rigorous scientific information is undeniably key to the conservation of critical habitats and the fish populations they support. But a strong governance framework for regulations on cage aquaculture is, of course, the ultimate way to prevent and reduce conflict between wild and farmed fish. The Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO), which coordinates the work of NaFIRRI, TAFIRI, and KMFRI, is the regional leader of Lake Victoria governance. The LVFO is working on new guidelines for sustainable cage aquaculture: where to place (and where to avoid placing) cages, the optimal water depth for good circulation, the types of feed that create the least amount of water pollution. But it will be up to the governments of the individual countries to enforce and communicate these policies in clear and straightforward ways, and to earn the support of the fishing communities to see successful implementation. Let’s all hope the best for source of the Nile.

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