By Sharon Atieno
To conserve and protect Lake Ol’ Bolossat from further degradation, a group of researchers are compiling biodiversity data to facilitate its registration as a Ramsar site- a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention (Convention on Wetlands).
The Convention is an intergovernmental environmental treaty established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1971 that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
Found in Nyandarua County, Lake Ol’ Bolossat, located 195km, North of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, has come under tremendous threat including from climate change which has led to its water drying up due to drought. Others are: encroachment, pollution, illegal water abstraction, invasive species, and illegal fishing and wildlife poaching.
Among the objectives of the three-year project by researchers from the East African Wildlife Society, Wangari Maathai Institute of Environmental Studies and Wildlife Research and Training Institute is to establish the ecological character of the Lake.
Jabes Okumu, Programs and Advocacy Manager, East African Wildlife Society, said during the 2023 African Science Journalists’ Congress convened by Media for Environment, Science and Health and Agriculture (MESHA) and Centre for Science and Environment(CSE) in Nairobi, Kenya.
Additionally, the project aims to catalyze citizen participation and capacity in biodiversity research and monitoring for improved management of the Lake. It also seeks to influence policy, scientific and inclusive decision-making to improve biodiversity conservation and management of the Lake.
According to Okumu, these objectives will be achieved through research and biodiversity monitoring which entails conducting biodiversity surveys, water quality assessment, analysis of land use changes, and recruiting and training youths to help in carrying out continuous biodiversity monitoring.
He adds that once the data is collected, it is going to be filled in the Ramsar Information sheet, which is a requirement for the listing to take place. This will be followed by multiple stakeholder engagement and government endorsement.
For a wetland to be considered internationally important, it should meet any of the nine criteria. These include containing a representative, rare, or unique example of a natural or near-natural wetland type found within the appropriate biogeographic region; supporting vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered species or threatened ecological communities or supporting populations of plant and/or animal species important for maintaining the biological diversity of a particular biogeographic region.
Other criteria include supporting plant and/or animal species at a critical stage in their life cycles, providing refuge during adverse conditions as well as regularly supporting 20,000 and more waterbirds: or 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of waterbird.
The wetland should also support a significant proportion of indigenous fish subspecies, species or families, life-history stages, species interactions and/or populations that are representative of wetland benefits and/or values and thereby contributes to global biological diversity; is an important source of food for fishes, spawning ground, nursery and/or migration path on which fish stocks, either within the wetland or elsewhere, depend or regularly supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of wetland-dependent non-avian animal species.
A 2019 National Museums of Kenya Rapid biodiversity assessment, found that the Lake has several species of biodiversity including birds (264), plants (370), fungi (34), aquatic environment (64), mammals (7), amphibians (6) and fish (7).
“This lake is worth conserving not just for people but for biodiversity to also thrive,” said Okumu.
Kenya is already home to six Ramsar sites including Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha, Lake Bogoria, Lake Baringo, Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru and Tana River Delta.
If listed as the seventh site, Okumu observes that the recognition will bring more resources to the management and conservation of the Lake as well as boost local tourism and employment in the area.