Lake Kamnarok Game Reserve in Kerio Valley, Baringo County, was once a vibrant ecosystem with plenty of flora and fauna that made it a favourite tourist destination.
However, water hyacinth invasion is threatening to choke the lake which was once prided for being second largest ecosystem in Africa after Lake Chad.
A visit revealed that it is a pale shadow of its former self with locals struggling to pull out the invasive weed with their bare hands. The lake can be mistaken for a farm with the water hyacinth on its flowering stage.
Residents who used to depend on the lake for fishing and water for domestic use are now a disillusioned lot.
“The government should help us regain the lost glory of the lake just like it has done in some parts of the country. The water hyacinth is now a hideout for crocodiles which have been killing out goats and posing a big danger to school children,” said Nelson Chebet, a resident.
A boat that had earlier been bought by the Baringo County government to assist residents in their fishing activities is no longer of any use as it can no longer penetrate the choking lake with an area of 87.7 square kilometres.
“Many youths are idle and should be hired to help get rid of the invasive plant,” said Silas Somek, another resident.
According to former Baringo County Council Clerk Peter Keitany Lake Kamnarok Game reserve was touted as the second largest ecosystem in Africa with the biggest number of animals after Lake Chad with a population of more than 10,000 crocodiles, 400 elephants, 13 species of other mammals and a variety of birds of rare species.
Lake Kamnarok Game Reserve which derives its name from ‘norok’ (water lily), an aquatic plant, was once a major income earner for the defunct Baringo County Council with tourists from far and wide touring the lake.
The fishing industry in Baringo County has suffered a major blow with the water hyacinth invasion with the world-famous lake Baringo being not spared either.
Fish production at the lake dropped from 482 tonnes in 2014 to 192 tonnes in 2016. In 2014, the county generated Sh148 million but dropped to Sh78 million in 2016.
A fish trader at Kampi Samaki near the lake, Ms Esther Talaa said that the business is dwindling in the area due to the scarcity of fish.
“I have been in this business for over 20 years now but it is now going down due to shortage of fish at Lake Baringo. We used to buy a tilapia at Sh50 each but it is now selling at Sh150 which is too high for us. I used to earn more than Sh50,000 a month but this has now reduced to a meagre Sh5,000. We used to be more than 30 traders doing the business but most of them have quit,” said Ms Talaa.
Another trader, Ms Zipporah Chelimo, said that she has now been forced to quit the business because she cannot afford to buy the fish for sale due to prices which are skyrocketing each day.
Baringo County director in charge of fisheries, Mr Dickson Ongwae, attributed the shortage of fish in the lake to water pollution, climate change and water hyacinth that is spreading quickly from the southern part of the lake.
Mr Ongwae said the massive growth of water hyacinth is doubling its mass every month and could choke and affect the long-term water availability on the lake.
“The water hyacinth restricts water flow, blocks sunlight from reaching native water plants and depletes the oxygen in the water which often chokes aquatic animals like fish,” he said.
The director said that efforts by the county government to remove the weed manually has not borne fruit and is now spreading quickly in the southern part of the lake.
He said that if urgent interventions are not made, the Lake will not be accessible by boat and it could mean doing away with fishing and tourism activities, the mainstay of livelihoods in the area.
“The weed is spreading fast and unless a remedy is found soon, those who depend on it for survival, including fishermen and fish traders, will be condemned to poverty,” said Mr Ongwae.
A spot check revealed that at several points where tributaries flow into the lake, invasive water hyacinth is soaking up water and choking the shoreline.