The largest lake in Colombia has been identified as one of the most threatened ecosystems worldwide.
Colombia’s largest lake, Tota, located in the central Boyaca department, has won a Grey Globe award, a distinction which identifies it as one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world.
Onion crops, trout-farming, and sewage from the four surrounding municipalities and steel-manufacturing have affected the level and quality of the water.
Boyaca’s tourist website describes the lake as, “undoubtedly one of the most beautiful natural places in Boyaca.”
However, 95% of the cultivable land in the basin of this “beautiful environment” is carpeted with crops of onions which comprise 90% of all the onions consumed in Colombia. The pungent vegetables not only add a distinctive flavor to the air, they also have a more sinister effect on South America’s second highest lake.
Excess nutrients found in fertilizers used for the cultivation of onions result in an algae bloom which invades the lake, depleting oxygen levels and destroying the ecosystem. Trout-fishing and sewage from the surrounding towns also contribute to the polluting effect.
The Mayor of the shoreside town Aquitainia, agrees that the lake is in a delicate condition, but worries that measures to protect it may have negative consequences for local residents who rely on the lake for their livelihoods.
Eduard Sarmiento, a representative of trout farmers in Lake Tota, argues that trout-farming is of utmost importance to the local area.
“Many people are employed in this activity, half of whom are from households headed by women who have never heard of a bonus, a severance fund, or a paid vacation,” said Sarmiento.
Angel Munar, the owner of a trout-farm that operates in the lake, told the BBC, “farmers are willing to cooperate and to engage in environmentally friendly practices. We are ready to develop all the techniques at our disposal to reduce the possible impact.” According to Munar, good farm practices have obtained several accreditations demonstrating trout-farming’s environmental sustainability.
Environmentalist Felipe Velasco said that the steelwork company in the catchment area combined with nearly half a million residents use approximately 3,000 litres of the lake’s water every second “without any compensation.”
“And there’s a new threat that hangs over the basin area and the proximity of the basin – the arrival of the oil industry,” said Valesco.
In March, more than 30 Lake Tota defenders leaped naked into the water to bring attention to the threatened lake.
“The problems with the lake begin with unconsciousness from of all of us as citizens, and as a state,” Valesco told the BBC.