Benthic Habitat Mapping for Humanity – Using Geophysics to Improve Fisheries Conservation at Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania

Geoscientists Without Borders
Habitat Management Projects

Some five million people live in the greater Lake Tanganyika watershed, and this population faces extreme poverty, disease, and the effects of environmental degradation associated with unregulated development.

Communities along the shores of Lake Tanganyika are dependent on fish, both for sustenance and generating income. Collapse of this fishery would be a disaster for the quality of life of the rapidly growing populations of impoverished people, and would irreversibly damage one the world's most spectacularly diverse freshwater ecosystems. Many years of limnological monitoring and fisheries assessments by scientists at the Tanzanian Fisheries Research Institute, academics from Africa and abroad, the Lake Tanganyika Authority, and the Nature Conservancy all suggest that a new conservation strategy, focusing on small-scale protected zones administered by local stakeholders, is required.

Community-based fisheries management requires detailed knowledge of near shore benthic habitats in order to strategically focus conservation efforts. Regrettably, this information is unavailable for most of Lake Tanganyika. This project will address this knowledge gap.

Status In Progress

Statement of Work

In this project, we propose to address this knowledge gap using marine-type geophysics and coupled sediment sampling. Detailed CHIRP seismic and side-scan sonar profiling will be conducted across a pilot study area in the Greater Mahale Ecosystem, a region selected for the presence of:

  1. a rich baseline of biological data
  2. numerous isolated rural fishing villages suffering from a degraded fishery
  3. areas within a national park marked by intact fish communities

New acoustic geophysical data, in concert with insights on sediment texture and radionuclide derived sediment mixing and accumulation rates, will be used to fully characterize the bathymetry, substrate type, and depositional dynamics of benthic habitats in both altered and pristine statesThese data will form the framework for defining small protected zones that will secure the health and productivity of the littoral fishery and thus improve the quality of life of lakeshore villagers. Further, the project will result in a much wider application of high-resolution, marine-type geophysical surveying for freshwater fisheries conservation, as the protocol for benthic habitat mapping devised in this project is designed to be adopted across Lake Tanganyika through coordination with the Lake Tanganyika Authority. Finally, the project will result in geophysical data acquisition, processing and interpretation training for a graduate and undergraduate student team at the University of Kentucky, and local conservation partners in Tanzania.

Principal Investigator

Dr. Michael McGlue, University of Kentucky  

Team members

University of Kentucky: Dr. Kevin Yeager, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, selected students
The Nature Conservancy Freshwater Conservation Program, Africa Region: Coline Apse, Peter Limbu
Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute: Ishmael Kimirei


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