Threatened Lake of the Year 2011: 

Laguna de Fúquene in Colombia

 

Important water source for 200,000 people in Colombia is threatened to suffocate

Nowhere else on earth, the density of plant, reptile and amphibian species is as high as in Colombia. Eighty years ago, Lake Fúquene was the largest lake in Colombia and an important habitat for indigenous species. Today, only 3,000 hectares of the once 10,000 hectares are left. The shallow water body has been dried up or filled in with land, to gain more farmland for agriculture and livestock breeding. At the same time, invasive plants are suffocating the lake.

 

Radolfzell / Bogotá, February, 2nd 2011. Most of the people associate Colombia with drug lords, guerrilla and kidnappings. Only some know that the country is one of the biggest biodiveristy-hotspots on our earth with a breathtaking natural landscape. Colombia’s surface, which is as big as France, Spain and Germany together, is covered by more than 35% of dense primeval forest. Rivers and lakes are also part of this landscape and create a habitat that is so rich in species. Lake Fúquene, situated 80 kilometres from Bogotá, offers habitats for various fish species, 32 migratory bird species and more than 120 native bird species.

 

Eighty years ago, Lake Fúquene was the largest lake in the country. It is a drinking water resource for 200,000 people that live in the region; most of them work in dairying, agriculture or mining. Due to the good availability of fresh water from the rivers and lakes, the region has become the most important milk supplier for the capital Bogotá with its eight million inhabitants. Because of the shallowness of the lake – the deepest point is five metres – the lake has been continuously dried up and the new land has been used for grazing. Once, the lake had a size of 10,000 hectares, whereas only 3,000 hectares are left today. At the same time, over the last years the lake became more and more polluted due to untreated and polluted water from surrounding communities and to nutrients of the livestock. This causes invasive plants like water hyacinth and waterweeds to rapidly cover the water surface and extract oxygen from the water.

 

For many decades, the responsible authority Corporación Autónoma Regional (CAR) did not care about the ecological well-being of the lake. On the contrary, it even promoted the lakes’ drainage. Tributaries have been diverted, so that water passes the lake and flows directly into the river Suárez and large fields of reed have been cut. This led the two invasive plant species spread even faster. Meanwhile, the lake is so heavily polluted, that it is stinking unbearably and almost all fishes have died. More than 80 fishermen families lost their livelihood and eco-tourism that was starting to flourish is declining.

 

"If no immediate action is taken, we will experience an environmental disaster in the next ten years which is unavoidable", says the biologist Dr. Hendrik Hoeck, South America expert and board member of the Global Nature Fund (GNF). This would not only destroy an area with a unique biodiversity, but also the economically important dairying would run big problems due to a decreased groundwater level. “The situation is paradox. If the government continues to authorise the drying of the lake, this will cause the lake to vanish. As a consequence, also dairying will collapse,” the biologist comments the actions that are taken by the responsible politicians.

 

Fundación Humedales is a Colombian nature conservation organisation that has been working at the lake for twelve years. As a last desperate measure they call upon a concerted rescue action for the lake. In order to raise attention for the critical situation of Lake Fúquene, the organisation and the Global Nature Fund will organise a conference with local authorities and international organisations in August 2011. Moreover, a publicity campaign shall increase pressure on the Colombian government and the Minister for Environment Beatriz Uribe as well as on the local authorities.

 

Background

Since 2004, on the Worlds Wetlands Day (2nd February) GNF nominates the “Threatened Lake of the Year” to call attention to a threatened lake and help solving environmental problems. Laguna de Fúquene is located at 2,540 meters on the Bogotá plateau and is the last bigger fresh water body of the Cordillera Oriental, the Eastern range of the Andes Mountains. The lake belongs to a water landscape of the Ubaté Valley which connects various rivers, wetlands and small lakes and has a total surface of 1,974 square kilometers. Lake Fúquene is member of the international network Living Lakes. The network successively and sustainably engages with local institutions in regions where lakes and wetlands encounter severe threats and is supported by international corporations such as Daimler, Lufthansa, T-Mobile, Sika, Reckitt Benckiser and Osram.

In August 2011, an international Conference “Current situation, line of action and future management scenarios at Lake Fúquene” took place at the Laguna de Fúquene, Colombia.

 
 Areas used for farming and agriculture
 Wetlands and reed areas at the shores
 Dairy farming
 Expansion of invasive water plants
 Seedlings of native plants in a tree nursery