Located at the southern end of the great expanse of Lake Malawi, with its deep, clear waters and mountain backdrop, the national park is home to many hundreds of fish species, nearly all endemic. Its importance for the study of evolution is comparable to that of the finches of the Galapagos Islands.
Outstanding Universal Value
Located at the southern end of the great expanse of Lake Malawi, the property is of global importance for biodiversity conservation due particularly to its fish diversity. Lying within the Western Rift Valley, Lake Malawi is one of the deepest lakes in the world. The property is an area of exceptional natural beauty with the rugged landscapes around it contrasting with the remarkably clear waters of the lake. The property is home to many hundreds of cichlid fish, nearly all of which are endemic to Lake Malawi, and are known locally as "mbuna". The mbuna fishes display a significant example of biological evolution. Due to the isolation of Lake Malawi from other water bodies, its fish have developed impressive adaptive radiation and speciation, and are an outstanding example of the ecological processes.
Criterion (vii): The property is an area of exceptional natural beauty with its islands and clear waters set against the background of the Great African Rift Valley escarpment. Habitat types vary from rocky shorelines to sandy beaches and from wooded hillsides to swamps and lagoons. Granitic hills rise steeply from lakeshore and there are a number of sandy bays.
Criterion (ix): The property is an outstanding example of biological evolution. Adaptive radiation and speciation are particularly noteworthy in the small brightly coloured rocky-shore tilapiine cichlids (rockfish), known locally as mbuna. All but five of over 350 species of mbuna are endemic to Lake Malawi and represented in the park. Lake Malawi's cichlids are considered of equal value to science as the finches of the Galapagos Islands remarked on by Charles Darwin or the honeycreepers of Hawaii.
Criterion (x): Lake Malawi is globally important for biodiversity conservation due to its outstanding diversity of its fresh water fishes. The property is considered to be a separate bio-geographical province with estimates of up to c.1000 species of fish half occurring within the property: estimated as the largest number of fish species of any lake in the world. Endemism is very high: of particular significance are the cichlid fish, of which all but 5 of over 350 species are endemic. The lake contains 30% of all known cichlids species in the world. The property is also rich in other fauna including mammals, birds and reptiles.
The property is sufficiently large (94.1 km2 of which 7km2 is aquatic zone) to adequately represent the water features and processes that are of importance for long term conservation of the lake's rich biodiversity and exceptional natural beauty. The water area within the national park protects the most important elements of the lake's biodiversity. It also protects all major underwater vegetation types and important breeding sites for the cichlids. Many other fish species of Lake Malawi are however unprotected due to the limited size of the park in relation to the overall area of the lake. Thus, at the time of inscription the World Heritage Committee recommended that the area of the national park be extended. The property's long term integrity largely depends on the overall conservation and management of the lake which falls under the jurisdiction of three sovereign states i.e. Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique.
Protection and management requirements
Lake Malawi National Park is protected under national legislation and the resources of the park are managed and controlled by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife.
The park has a management plan and, there is also a strategic tourism management plan for Malawi which describes the tourism development for the site. Utilisation of park resources is restricted to curb the illegal harvesting of resources. There are five villages included within enclaves inside the property. The local population is dependent on fishing for a livelihood as the soil is poor and crop failure frequency is high. Whilst the property's terrestrial and underwater habitats are still in good condition, management planning needs to deal more effectively with the threats of rapid growth of human population and the impacts of firewood collection, fish poaching and crowded fish landing sites. Thus a key management priority is the maintenance of the lake ecosystem while taking into consideration the needs of the local community through collaborative management programmes. The implementation of the Wildlife Policy that mandates park management to work in collaboration with local communities within and outside park boundaries and share responsibilities and benefits accruing from the management of the park is important to enable effective management to be implemented. Potential threats from introduced fish species which could displace endemics, pollution from boats and siltation from the denuded hills, need to be minimised and require close monitoring. Collaboration with the governments of Tanzania and Mozambique needs to be maintained and strengthened for the long term protection and management of the entire lake ecosystem, and consideration of the potential for its extension is required.
The park, which covers some 94 km2 , is composed of the Cape Maclear peninsula, three other disjunct mainland areas, 12 islands and lake waters that lie within 100 m of the park's terrestrial components. Total water area is estimated as 7 km2 . Habitat types vary from rocky shorelines to sandy beaches and from wooded hillsides to swamps and lagoons. Granitic hills rise steeply from the lakeshore and there are a number of sandy bays including a fine beach in the Chembe-Otter Point area. Lake surface elevation is near 475 m, while the highest point on the peninsula is 1,140 m.
The lake water is remarkably clear. The level fluctuates according to season with a long-term cycle of fluctuation. Recent years have seen increases to the highest levels since recording began (probably due to increased rainfall and clearing of forests on the high plateau). Lake Malawi itself is the third deepest in the world and occupies an elongated crack of the Rift Valley.
The land areas excluding the smallest islands are (or were once) heavily wooded. Originally this was a characteristic community containing baobab and several species of Ticus , Sterculia , Khaya and Albizzia with a groundcover of grasses and wild flowers. Due to clearing of the forest, some woodland areas have been altered to Brachystegia and shrubby vegetation. Soils are stony and of poor nutrient status.
Lake Malawi contains the largest number of fish species of any lake in the world. There are between 500 and 1,000 fish species, with perhaps half occurring in the park area. Endemism is high (thought to exceed 90%) and particularly noteworthy are the Cichlidae , of which all but five of an estimated 350 species are endemic to Malawi. The lake contains 30% of all known cichlid species. Of particular interest are the mbuna rock fish. Other fish species include 28 endemic to the lake. The flora of the lake have not been studied in detail.
Mammals include hippo (particularly in the Monkey Bay area) duiker, baboon, vervet monkey, bush pig, warthog and occasional elephant (reported as coming down to the lake between Mwenya and Nkhudzi hills). Leopard, kudu, bushbuck and impala have been reduced or extirpated from the area. The park is rich in birdlife including fish eagle along the shoreline. The islands, especially Mumbo and Boadzulu, are important nesting areas for white-throated cormorant which number several thousand. Reptiles include crocodiles and abundant monitor lizards on Boadzulu Island.
Archaeological evidence points to a long period of human occupation with sites dating back to the Iron Age in the 4th century. The Cape Maclear area was one focal point in the ivory and slave trade era. In more recent times a Livingstone Mission was established there and the area was a stopover on the Cape to London flying boat service. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
24 November 1980, under the National Parks Act NP (Est) Order 1980, Govt. Notice No. 205 of 1980. Most of the area was previously classified in forest reserves; some of the islands have been protected since 1934. It protects several disjunct terrestrial areas and all lake waters within 100m of these areas. Inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1984. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation