Have you heard of Lake Turkana? Lake Turkana is the world's largest desert lake and alkaline lake and the third largest lake in Africa. This beautiful lake, sometimes called the “Jade Sea” due to it's color, is located in a region teeming with cultural and biological diversity. Yet most people visiting Kenya never think to include this lake on their travel itinerary, let alone know that it exists. The same issues that have kept away tourists, namely the remote, inhospitable and sometimes politically unstable nature of this region, have also limited scientific studies on the lake.
Only three major research projects have taken place on the lake, the last of which ended almost 30 years ago, deeming it the most understudied and least understood of the African Rift Valley Lakes. As a result, our knowledge of even basic ecological and biological characteristics of the lake's fish is scarce. What controls the abundance of these fishes? How have their populations changed since the 1980's and how will they change in the future? My dissertation research will begin to address these questions. I will focus on the feeding and movement habits of the lake's fishes and how these characteristics, and ultimately fish abundance, will be impacted by changes in lake level.
Lake Turkana acts as a lifeline for the people and wildlife living in this very arid region. Hundreds of 1000's of people from over six tribes depend on it for food, water and transportation. Its wildlife includes the largest remaining population of the Nile crocodile and hundreds of native and migratory bird species. Some of the species found in and around this lake aren't found anywhere else in the world, so if they are lost from this lake they will be lost forever.
Unfortunately, Lake Turkana is currently being threatened by global climate change and local development projects. These projects include a series of five large dams and large-scale irrigation schemes along the Omo River, which is known as the lake's “umbilical cord” because it contributes 90% of it's water. If these projects are completed, Lake Turkana as it's currently known may cease to exist. It may even shrink enough to become two smaller, highly saline lakes. Losses in water level will have big implications for the fish in the lake, which would quickly become too saline for people and wildlife to drink.
With your help I plan to purchase acoustic tags and acoustic receivers to study fish movement. Acoustic tags are surgically implanted into fish without harming them. They send out “pings” to acoustic receivers placed in the water, which record the location of the fish every 90 seconds. I have successfully used this technique in the lake's protected area, but do not have the funds to tag fish in Ferguson's Gulf. Ferguson's Gulf is the lake's most important fishery area, is used by fish for breeding and feeding and will be one of the first habitats lost with declines in lake level.
The $6,000 goal would allow me to purchase
Every additional $350 raised will allow me to tag one more fish! Each Nile tilapia we tag will give us invaluable information on the ecology of this species.
Lake Turkana is a large ecosystem that has been very sparsely studied. As a result, new species- including fish, turtles, and parasites- are still being discovered in and around the lake. Although my research is not focused on finding new species, I have been collecting genetic samples during field visits for use by colleagues interested in these discoveries. It is very likely that there are still undiscovered species in this lake.
Perhaps even more important, we will be discovering what has changed in this ecosystem since the 1980's and what changes may occur in the future. Although many of the threats to the lake cannot be stopped, I hope that more knowledge on the lake's fishes will help to manage them in the face of these threats or to alter these threats so that they will have less of an impact.
I have an “about me” book that I wrote when I was nine years old that describes in detail how I will grow up to become a marine biologist. My love for the sea likely stemmed from hours of digging for sand crabs on the beaches of New York. This passion stuck with me throughout the years, so I attended Gettysburg College as an undergraduate to major in Biology and Environmental Sciences with a focus on Marine and Freshwater Ecology. I was involved in research on blue mussel movement while at Gettysburg College and completed a summer research internship studying algae at William and Mary. These experiences solidified my passion for the study of aquatic life. My academic experiences, as well as my heavy involvement in multiple organizations relating to sustainability, also instilled in me a new interest in aquatic conservation and in the interaction between social and ecological systems. I excelled at Gettysburg College, graduating Summa Cum Laude with numerous awards and the highest GPA in both of my majors.
Three years ago, immediately following my graduation from Gettysburg College, I chose to pursue a PhD degree at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences of Stony Brook University. At Stony Brook I work with Dr. Ellen Pikitch, the director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science. Shortly after arriving at Stony Brook, a team from my department was invited to explore research opportunities available on Lake Turkana. They gave a seminar on their findings when they returned from their trip, and I was immediately drawn to this ecosystem. This is a region where my interest in the interactions between social and ecological systems and in aquatic conservation come heavily into play. I am passionate about studying this lake because I believe it is necessary if we hope to properly manage it- for the fish we've discovered and potentially some we haven't yet, for the wildlife surrounding the lake, and for the people living on the lake's shores. I have completed all of the requirements for my PhD degree except for finishing my research and dissertation. In my spare time, I am involved with the departmental Graduate Student Club and serve on the board of directors of a local parrot sanctuary.
While attending Stony Brook, I have been fortunate to enough to be awarded a Graduate Fellowship by the Turkana Basin Institute and a Young Explorer's Grant by the National Geographic Society. These awards, along with an anonymous donation, have been the primary sources of funding for this project. Due to the expensive nature of working in this remote region and the research equipment required, the funds remaining from these sources would not allow me to complete my research.
Thank you again to everyone who has donated!! I am still trying to get the word out through conservation blogs (thank you David Zetland) and local newspapers.
David made a good point - that backers may want to know the breakdown for the expenses. A round trip ticket to Nairobi will cost approximately $1200, each acoustic receiver costs $1400 (or $2800 for two) and each acoustic tag costs $350 (or $1750 for five). The equipment is very expensive but can really tell us a lot about fish ecology! The additional $250 would be used for a plane ticket from Nairobi to Lodwar (~$300 round trip; Lodwar is only 50km from my field site) and/or for shipping costs for the acoustic tagging equipment.
Water scarcity breeds conflict in the Omo delta region. This conflict often leads to death of tribespeople from the Turkana and Dassanech, among other, tribes. Read more on the subject in this article: http://futurechallenges.org/local/in-the-face-of-a-receding-lake-water-conflict-at-the-ethiopia-kenya-border/.
Thank you to everyone who has donated so far! We still have 88% to go and we're already 1/5 of the way through the campaign. Please spread the word to friends and family who may be interested.
Over the last few weeks, my main focus has been processing samples collected during the June 2012 trip to the lake. With your help, my hope is to travel to the lake again in early 2013 to expand the acoustic tagging component of the project.
Less than 48 hours and we've already reached 10% of the project goal! Thank you to everyone who donated. If the project is successful, I will be in touch regarding your rewards.