31 January 2010

East Africa: Marine Parks to Be Set Up Around Lake Victoria

Nairobi — Plans are underway to create marine parks in the Lake Victoria basin, which will in turn help to boost tourism.

The parks that are primarily meant to conserve the threatened areas around the lake will also provide new tourist attraction sites and create employment.

Scientists from the national fisheries research institutes of the three countries that share the lake are already conducting preliminary studies to identify the threatened areas.

The research has been commissioned by the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) to the tune of $160,000.

The executive secretary of LVBC, Tom Okurut said they will also develop a digital map with help from the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development, to be used in monitoring these ecologically sensitive areas.

Dr Okurut said the digital map will indicate fish breeding sites, wetlands, river mouths among other endangered areas in the lake basin that require special conservation efforts.

The maps will also show areas of cultural significance and habitats of endangered birds and animals, such as the Sitatunga.

The assistant director of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute Richard Abila said the map will also form a basis to lobby for the formulation of appropriate laws to conserve and protect these endangered areas.

The studies end in February to pave way for scientific discussions to validate the results.

Dr Okurut said that by the end of the year, the endangered areas would be gazetted as protected areas and appropriate legislation presented to the East African Legislative Assembly.

The regional legislation would be in addition to the new laws formulated by national parliaments.

Presently, Kenya has the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act that has, however, been criticised for its weaknesses that hinder it from effectively playing its role.

"For instance, it does not address specific areas of ecological interest but mainly focuses on preventing damage to existing ecosystems," said Dr Abila.

He added that the map would allow for action to be taken to deal with the threats that range from human settlement to agriculture and harvesting of papyrus.

The digital map will also strengthen Kenya's case as it prepares to petition the secretariat of the Ramsar Convention to designate parts of the lake basin as endangered areas.

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