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Water hyacinth threatens aquatic life in Lake Victoria

Many species of fish and other water organisms in Lake Victoria face extinction as water hyacinth spreads across the second largest lake in the world

Fishermen in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have complained that the weed has blocked fish landing beaches and harboured mosquitoes and snakes.

"The lake will soon give up and studies suggest that very few fish species are left under the water as some have been forced to extinction due to lack of fresh water," said Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute director William Ojwang.

The weed has been spreading in Lake Victoria due to the continuous inflow through Kagera River, while availability of nutrients in the lake have increased its proliferation. The livelihoods of many communities have been put at risk as Lake Victoria has been a source of food and transportation.

Fishing communities have already reported a decrease in biodiversity, which scientists attributed to the death of several water organisms, creating gaps in the ecosystem.

The weeds have sapped oxygen from the water in the affected areas and created a 'dead zone' where plants, fish and other organisms could no longer survive, scientists revealed. The death of native plants have also affected aquatic animals.

The water hyacinth has covered the entire length of the shorelines on the Kenyan side, spreading across several administrative districts.

Local fishing canoes and boats with outboard engines commonly used by the fishermen and fish traders, have been rendered useless. Fish production has been cut as the stocks have drastically reduced and soon, the lake will just be a field of excursion without any benefit to those in the riparian sector, fisheries experts warned.

To control the spread of the weed, the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project (LVEMP) II has been set up, and with support from the World Bank, has allocated KES 178 million (US$2.1 million) for the project.

Beach Management Unit national chairman Tom Guda stressed that LVEMP II should lay emphasis on the manual removal, adding it was the only short term intervention to control the water hyacinth that has greatly affected thousands of fishermen.

Guda highlighted that it depended upon the East African Community member states sharing Lake Victoria to make concerted efforts and develop stronger policies that will lead to ultimate eradication of the weed.