Climate change exacerbates flooding in Lake Nakuru, Kenya

Climate change exacerbates flooding in Lake Nakuru, Kenya

By Megan S. Lee


Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya was established in 1961 as a protected area, providing a habitat for a number of African plain animals that attract tourists, such as black and white rhinos, hippos, zebras, lions, giraffes, flamingos, and over 300 species of birds. Lake Nakuru is one of the three shallow, alkaline lakes at the bottom of Kenya’s Rift Valley where African Lesser Flamingos can be found. Thousands of flamingos can be found in Lake Nakuru throughout the year, and sometimes more than a million could be seen at once.

Increases in global industrialization and human activities in recent decades have cooked up a multitude of threats upsetting this fragile ecosystem and the longstanding socio-economic activities of locals. Major threats include siltation from commercial agriculture, pollution from agricultural chemicals, and industrial and domestic waste from the nearby Nakuru town, Kenya’s fourth-largest urban center. A compounding factor of these threats is climate change, which has increased rainfall and flooding throughout East Africa, most notably in the past decade. Warming Indian Ocean waters and unusually dry and wet seasons are just a few of the major climate changes impacting this region.

Flooding in Lake Nakuru extends far beyond the National Park’s boundaries, marked by the double fence posts.

With increased flooding, the alkaline or saline water in these shallow lakes has become diluted, creating a less than preferable environment for the Lesser Flamingos and their highly specialized diets. African Lesser Flamingos are almost entirely dependent on microscopic blue-green algae but can consume smaller invertebrates when the algae bloom is less dense. Blue-green algae thrive best in alkaline environments. The millions of flamingos that used to flock to Lake Nakuru have been migrating to other lakes in response to the deteriorating conditions. Throughout Africa, the flamingo population has decreased by 20% and could be lost in the next hundred years. The species is listed as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN.

Flamingos at the shores of Lake Nakuru have become sparse.

Locals in the region are experiencing the effects of climate change firsthand. Thousands have been displaced from flooded homes. Agricultural lands have become fishing grounds. Young people who used to attend school are suddenly needed at home. Some see the changes as positive, now having fishing and boating as sources of income instead of agriculture. Others believe that the fish from Lake Nakuru are contaminated with heavy metals from the polluted waters. Whether positive or negative, changes are happening fast. Those on the frontlines of climate change are being forced to adapt, and in due time, so will the rest of the world.

Boat riding is a new economic activity for locals in search of fish to sell.
People have been displaced from flooded homes like this one.

Photos by Megan S. Lee

This story was produced in partnership with InfoNile with support from Code for Africa and funding from the JRS Biodiversity Foundation.

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