Lake Tanganyika: Deep, Ancient and At Risk

African Lake Tanganyika and Siberian Lake Baikal are two of the oldest and deepest freshwater lakes on earth – two qualities that make them both extremely interesting to researchers.

Lake Tanganyika, divided between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Zambia and Burundi, is the deepest lake in the world after Russian Lake Baikal and the longest lake on the planet. Because of its ancient origin and long-time isolation, Tanganyika has been getting a lot of attention from evolutionary biologists and scientist around the world.

Scientists think Tanganyiaka will yield an astonishing array of new and interesting species, similar to Lake Baikal's 1,700 species of animals and plants – of which two thirds can't be found anywhere else in the world. Baikal, located in Southern Siberia (Russia) was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 and is known as the Russian Galapagos because of its diversity – it also contains more freshwater than the five Great Lakes combined.

Congo authorities are bringing in Russian mini-subs to conduct a study of the lake and to determine its exact age and diversity of life. The Mir-1 and Mir-2 subs, which carried out 52 dives in Lake Baikal last summer will be used to map and investigate the biological health of the lake.

"I arrived here with the hope that experience in the studying of Baikal would help us," scientist Sammi Kimbata said. "We would like Russian Mir mini-subs involved in the search of Baikal to participate in the study of Tanganyika."

Already, environmentalists are concerned about Tanganyiaka's health. The study and preservation of Lake Tanganyika, whose over 2,000 life forms are threatened by pollution, "may be burdened by the fact that it stretches across four countries," said Kimbata.

About a million people depend on the lake's fish output for survival, and the small, local plankton-eating dagaa fish is Lake Tanganyika's most important fish, caught in the millions and laid on the lake's shore to dry.

"We should agree how to study and save the lake. If one nation stops the pollution this must be done by the others, or it will be senseless," he said.

 

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