Monitoring & Research Project: Chamo on cusp of catastrophe

Two significant Ethiopian Rift Valley Lakes, Abaya and Chamo that since 1984, had amazing ecological splendor replete with rich verdant locale that once teemed with flora & fauna and throbbing aquatic life is now completely divested of its buffer zone and potential food chain that gave way to loads of siltation, turbidity and rampant land use hurtling these lakes on the cusp of total catastrophe; is anybody listening?

It’s a clarion call for all stakeholders including surrounding population, who have allegedly caused and still causing irreparable damage to the ecology of these two lakes. Dr Fasil Eshetu’s ongoing project – ‘Lake Abaya and Chamo Monitoring and Research, Filling Data from Management and Conservation Plan,’ is aimed at gauging awful impact of silt inflow into Chamo Lake that stated to have displaced around 811 hectares of normal permanent water thus shrinking and pushing it on the threshold of disaster.

The project will fill data gaps by identifying species in restoring buffer zone and ascertain corrective measures that might evolve fertilization zone, delineate watershed and ultimately in making stakeholders understand the real gravity of the situation and further signing a specific pact in this regard.

Dr Fasil adds in last 18 months, project could find that it’s not only Kulfo but Sile and Elgo streams also have been contributing loads of silts in it, and as per the records in last 32 years (1984-2015), 811 hectares of normal permanent water have been displaced. Soon, the project will measure the exact flow of sediments by quantifying total suspended solid in the lakes that will enable us to arrive at certain scientific recommendations, he quipped.

He said International Water Satellite image showed that in 1984, Chamo Lake which was spread on expanse of over 500 kilometers started shrinking rapidly after two years. The statistics say that presently it’s reduced to 321 kilometers with deep turbidity, loss of food chain, absence of buffer zone, declining fish intake, etc.

He says over-grazing and erosion have caused depletion of forest that paved the way for inflow of sedimentation, which has smothered phytoplankton for light can’t penetrate water. Phytoplankton is photosynthetic organisms such as algae, blue-green algae or cyanobacteria that obtain energy through photosynthesis and pull nutrients from water. Chamo Lake with precarious 34 centimeter transparency can’t produce food (zooplankton) because phytoplankton is the primary source for it.

The transparency level in both lakes has irretrievably deteriorated; in 1984, Chamo Lake had 1.15 meter transparency level that has plummeted to 34-to-40 centimeter. In 1985, Abaya had just 19 centimeter of transparency level is now reduced to 11 centimeter; it has no food chain, and chances of revival is bleak. Now fishes in Abaya and Chamo are feeding on sediments and leftover zooplankton, if we try to swap them the result is bound to be disastrous, the resultant outcome will be both species get extinct.

Reasoning scientifically, he said, Linear Regression puts 2025 crucial for Chamo’s survival; otherwise; it will go Abaya way, while Exponential Regression indicates by 2055 both lakes will reach to the point of no return. He says lakes are integral part of watershed, its buffer zone is natural kidney that purifies excess nutrients and sediments; if it gets destroyed, everything will begin to decay and die.

Substantiating further, he says, 100 years ago, Chamo Lake had plethora of Cyprus Papyrus and Typha all around its banks that maintain purity of water; but over the years, people indiscriminately used them for cultural purpose; now it needs to be planted and flow of sediments from highlands must be stopped.

At Chamo watershed, Gezia forest is only natural reserve, with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) aid we could identify areas, constituted technical and management committees, planted saplings on 17 hectares, wetland mapping done and watershed will be delineated to bridge the gap in data management. AMU has also promised to build data laboratory in future; 2 PhD and MSc students are doing their research work under this project,.

This collaborative endeavor has Nechsar National Park (NNP) that gave space for fertilization zone and research sites while German organization – GIZ pays for plantation, study plans, per diem and also given two boats for the project.

It’s to note that this project is an extension of Dr Fasil Eshetu’s, PhD dissertation – ‘Ecology of major Ethiopian Rift Valley Lakes – Abaya and Chamo specially references to food chain and water quality.’’

(Corporate Communication Directorate)