The two study regions are Lake Constance, bordering Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, and Lake Victoria, on the shores of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. High ecological vulnerability and diverse economic interests characterize both areas, representing complex socio-ecological systems. Large lake systems are particularly useful to study in the context of socio-ecological interactions as they present semi-closed systems with relatively well defined boundaries.
Over 35 million people in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda depend on Lake Victoria for their livelihood. The lake provides a wealth of opportunities such as the growing fishing industry, tourism and aquaculture. The number of fishermen at Lake Victoria has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years, which has transformed the fishing industry at the lake. With that come challenges such as water pollution, bio-diversity loss, and over-fishing that affects not only the once abundant fish stocks, but also the fragile environmental and economic ecosystems supported by Africa’s largest lake.
International and regional efforts have contributed positively to conserving the environment over the last 40 years. Still, many environmental challenges remain. The ecological processes are complex and multilayered, and so are society’s management institutions within and across the countries involved. To manage Lake Victoria better, we need to understand the complex interplay between ecology, society, and various economic and individual actors.
Relevant issues around Lake Victoria include:
- Controlling ecological issues such as eutrophication, eichhornia crassipes
- Reduced fish catch of the Nile Perch
- Control of pollution and liter affecting the lake's ecosystem
- Compliance to fishing regulations
- Reduced employment opportunities for local population
- Management of soil erosion and deforestation
- Coherent and harmonised policy across institutions of the lake
- Managing aquaculture in a sustainable matter
Millions of people visit the Lake Constance every year. It provides clean drinking water to about 5 million people, and the area contributes to some of the most innovative and fast growing high tech industries in the region.
Within the EU Water Framework Directive, the lake use is planned, governed, and protected by an international network of policy-makers, NGOs, businesses and individuals. This complex multi-level governance structure presents opportunities as well as challenges for environmentally and economically sustainable lake use. During 1950-1970s international coordination was key to preventing the lake from falling into a state of irreversible eutrophication. However, a solution for one sector may imply a problem for another. One example often raised is the relation between nutrient levels in the lake and the yields from lake fisheries.
Some of todays’ environmental and social challenges include:
- Economic viability for commercial fishers
- Climate change and invasive species (stickleback, ragweed)
- Planned and current use of the surface water (sailing, docks, aquaculture ponds)
- Conservation of littoral zones
- The control of chemicals in the lake
- Reduced carbon emissions from transportation
- Social mobility and regional integration