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Protecting freshwater ecosystems

Lake Malawi-Niassa-Nyasa is widely recognized as the most biologically important lake in the world. It is home to over 1,000 fish species - 95 percent of them endemic to the lake, including hundreds of species of cichlids. Yet this biological richness occurs alongside extreme human poverty. Fishing communities live well below the official poverty line, and the lake's fisheries resources are under threat from overfishing.

As a result of our accomplishments in Malawi, opportunities arose on the Mozambican side of the lake, Lake Niassa, to create a protected area that promotes livelihoods, tourism development and biodiversity conservation. Since September 2006, with funding from USAID and WWF, we have been working to establish the Lake Niassa Reserve. This reserve encompasses Lake Niassa and its shoreline from Metangula to the Cóbuè area, with wildlife areas totaling approximately 247,100 acres.

A major threat to Lake Niassa is illegal migrant fishermen from Malawi coming across to fish in Mozambique as an alternative to their own more notably exhausted fisheries. The lake ecosystem is also threatened by increased sedimentation from nonsustainable agriculture, timber and firewood harvesting on the catchment slopes.

Notable Accomplishments:

  • Community consultations with 20 coastal villages and two communities outside the reserve who insisted on being included in the project
  • 24 community rangers trained at Gorongosa Wildlife College
  • Legal enforcement by the first joint community Naval patrol boat
  • 15 lakeshore tourism development sites defined for community-based tourism projects

Next Steps:

  • Work with the government of Mozambique to declare the reserve, securing biodiversity and the livelihoods of lakeside communities
  • Design a reserve management and zoning plan to formalize the terrestrial borders and address river and watershed management
  • Engage the Malawian Ministry of Fisheries in cross-border dialogue and information exchange
  • Increase joint patrols of the reserve area