Litter chokes Lake Malawi’s biodiversity

 Litter chokes Lake Malawi’s biodiversity

Litter chokes Lake Malawi’s biodiversity.

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The rising tide of litter being indiscriminately splashed around Lake Malawi’s internationally famed beaches pose serious environmental challenges to marine wildlife, human health, recreational value and tourism quality. The practice is heavily contributing to biodiversity loss, ecological changes, and reduction of the beaches’ aesthetic appeal.

Lake Malawi, also christened “the Lake of Stars”, is one of the world’s few fresh water bodies with over a thousand endemic fish species. Combined with the tropical weather, mopane vegetation and a picturesque of rolling mountains and valleys, the lake makes Malawi, a tourist destination of international repute.

Millions of Malawians also depend on the lake and its shoreline biodiversity for their livelihood.

However, the increasingly changing demographic tastes of beach uses such as bathing, washing, fishing, lodging, entertainment and leisure has generated chaotic waste dumping practices which have contributed the failure of fish stocks, especially the famous chambo, to produce sustainable yields.

A visit to Senga Bay in Salima district revealed that lakeshore residential houses, back-packer and upmarket lodges and hotels accumulate varying degrees of waste and litter depending on beach usage, clientele lifestyles and level of owner waste management practices and environmental sensitivity.

Beaches for upmarket lodges and hotels largely cater for, though with exceptions, conventional users with owners observing standard waste management practices and environmental sensitivity than at other adventurous tourist resorts where beachgoers enjoying recreactional activities deposit higher quantities of waste and litter.

“It is very pathetic and shameful that nobody seems to care,” says Gilbert a new visitor at a back-packers lodge who declined to give his second name.

Lake Malawi’s common beach waste and litter include plastic bags, bottles, plastic cups, beverages cans, straws, balloons, cigarette filters, bottle tops and other items for medical or personal hygiene such as cotton swabs and baby diapers.

Gilbert says if left uncollected, the garbage find their way into the lake after being swept by waves, winds, rains and floods during the rainy season.

The intensity of the waste also depend on the beaches’ proximity to supermarkets and suppliers. Unfortunately, education on waste management, particularly aquatic waste management, in the country is very low.

The Sustainable Development Goals calls for an integrated approach across the 17 Global Goals to create a framework that can sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems from land-based pollution.

Local experts agree that effective lakeshore waste management policies decrease the incidences of land-based litter entering the lake environment using a long-term public education campaign to raise the public awareness of the problem.

The Department of Environmental Affairs (EAD) in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining which has advocated for the ban on the importation, production and use of plastics of less than 60 microns has started conducting awareness campaigns.

“We are providing expertise for different interest groups in order to encourage the recycling of plastic papers,” says Sangwani Phiri, the department’s spokesperson. He added that some companies have shown interest in the recycling business.

Christopher Bauti, JournAIDS Executive Director, feels that it is high time the country draws up a national waste management legislation to stimulate the sense of responsibility to the environment and to encourage public participation in the activities related to the maintenance of environmental quality, such as clean-up activities.

“It is particularly important for lake users and lakeshore communities to be aware that the quality of the shoreline is determined by the reduction of marine litter,” says Bauti whose organisation is geared to raising public awareness campaigns effects of litter pollution of the lake.

He says such a legislation would restrict the use of plastic shopping bags and disposable plastics and encourage the use recyclable shopping bags at lake public facilities.

JournAIDS, Bauti says, intends to lobby government to develop and implement legal instruments that would compensate for the economic costs associated with marine debris.

“Users of litter producing items should be subjected to economic instruments such as producer responsibility fees, waste collection taxes and recycled product tax rebates,” he says pointing out that the aim is to instil the correct handling and disposal of wastes by users.

Charles Mkula

Charles Mkula has over 15 years of working as a Malawian newsroom news reporter and editor as well as a freelance journalist for a number of international news outlets, Charles Mkula has worked as a Public Relations Officer for a Malawi/Germany urban development project. He co-founded Hyphen Media Institute, a platform for sharing information generated from policy debate and advocacy activities. Charles likes reading, writing, traveling, exercises, making friends, listening to music, watching TV, documentaries and cartoons.

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