Lake Victoria ranks atop on the list of the African Great Lakes – it is Africa’s largest lake by area. In the whole world, Lake Victoria is the largest tropical lake, the second largest fresh water lake by surface area after Lake Superior in North America and in terms of volume, the ninth largest continental lake. The lake has a surface area of approximately 68800 square kilometers, a maximum depth of 84 meters (276 ft), an average depth of 40 meters (130 ft), a catchment area covering 184000 square kilometers and a shoreline of 7142 kilometers.
Documentation of the Lake
Lake Victoria was named after Queen Victoria of England by John Speke, the first Briton explorer to document it. John Speke made this milestone in 1858 while on an expedition with Sir Richard Francis Burton to find the Source of river Nile. In the local dialects, the lake bears a myriad names. In Africa, the lake is for instance called Nalubaale in the Luganda dialect, Nam Lolwe in Luo, and Nyanza in Kinyarwanda. The first recorded information about the lake came from Arab traders who were plying The inland routes in quest of ivory, gold, slaves and other precious commodities. The Muhammad al-Idrisi map clearly depicts an accurate representation of Lake Victoria and even identifies it as the source of the Nile. The development of the map dates back to the 1160’s.
Lake Victoria is about 400,000 years old. The lake was formed as a result of westward flowing rivers being dammed by an up throw of crustal block. Geologically, Lake Victoria went through many changes ranging from its current shallow depression, and then to what may have been a series of much smaller lakes. Sample cores taken from the bottom of the lake show that it has dried up completely at least three times since its formation. The drying cycles are related to past ice ages – times when precipitation declined globally. The lake dried out about 17300 years ago and it refilled about 14700 years ago.
Wildlife and reptile species
The Lake Victoria region is a habitat to a variety of wildlife, mammal species and reptiles, a great number of them living in the lake and the nearby wetlands. Among these species is; the hippopotamus, Nile crocodiles, African helmeted turtles, Williams’ mud turtles, variable mud turtles, African clawless otter, spot-necked otter, sitatunga, marsh mongooses, bohor reedbucks, defassa waterbucks, and cane rats. The Williams’ mud turtle is only found in Lake Victoria and other lakes, swamps and rivers in the upper Nile basin.
History of fishing
As of 1997, the lake supported Africa’s largest inland fishery. Fishery initially involved native species, mainly the tilapia and haplochromine cichlids. Also, catfish, elephant fish and mabled lung fish were found in the Lake. Tilapia and ningu however declined in the first half of the 20th century due to over fishing. In the 1950s, several species of non-native tilapia and Nile perch were introduced to the Lake to boost fishing. The native species continued to dominate fisheries until their decline in the 1970s. This decline indicated the strong shift towards non-native species. At the peak in the 1990s, about 500,000 metric tons of Nile perch were landed yearly in Lake Victoria.
Transport on Lake Victoria
The dominant means of transport on Lake Victoria is the use of ferries. Since the early 1900s, ferries have been the main means of transport between Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The main ports on Lake Victoria are; Entebbe, Port Bell, Jinja, Kisumu, Mwanza and Bukoba. Designated a royal mail ship, the MV Victoria was the fastest and newest ferry until the Kenyan Independence in 1963. A train ferry service between Kenya and Tanzania was established in 1966 with the introduction of MV Uhuru and MV Umoja. On the 21st of May 1996, a grievous accident was registered on the lake – ferry MV Bukoba sank and led to the loss of between 800 – 1000 lives. This accident is still one of Africa’s worst maritime disasters.