Lake Letas

Date of Submission: 01/10/2004
Criteria: (vii)(ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Vanuatu National Museum, PO Box 184, Port Vila and Vanuatu Environment Unit
Coordinates: S14 27 E167 50
Ref.: 1974


The above named area is a volcanic crater lake that covers an area of 19 square kilometres. It is the largest freshwater system in Vanuatu and the Pacific with a maximum depth of 350m. The water from the lake flows over a waterfall and cascades through a short river to the sea. The most prominent feature of the entire caldera is that the lake is associated with swampy vegetation and an active volcanic cone. This region is a cultural monument for the native people of Gaua. The local community believes that such a physical setting hosts ancestral forms of wealth. The area is respected and kept and contains many traditional taboo sites.

The lake and its river naturally accommodate a diversity of freshwater species of prawns, fishes and eels. A small island within the Lake is a nationally significant nesting site for waterfowl. Swamp vegetation includes natural stands of Metroxylon warburgii, and the swamp palm (which only occurs outside Vanuatu in the nearby islands of Santa Cruz, South of the Solomon Islands). Other vegetation includes Hibiscus tiliaceus, Heliconia sp., and Cyathea lunulata. Nineteen (19) endemic plant species have been recorded in this area. All plants have vernacular names and specified uses and are of importance to the local communities.

Nimoho et al have conducted two assessments of the region in 1998 and 2001, during which time they have recorded 39 species of birds, which constitute over 50% of Vanuatu’s land and freshwater birds. Two thirds of the bird species are endemic. Two rare species, the Green Palm Lorikeet (Charmosyna palmarum) and the Royal Parrot Finch (Erythura cyaneovirens) also inhabit this region. Other faunal communities include reptiles, with two endemic species, 3 species of fruit bats (including one endemic) and the primitive fruit bat (Notopteris macdonaldi), restricted to Vanuatu and three localities in Fiji.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

With the assistance of the Vanuatu Environment Unit, the local community would like to officially propose Lake Letas as a conservation area.  The area is under a Medium Scale Project which the Environment Unit and has won funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to undertake further work for five years.  This work will begin this year with assistance from local communities and landholders who are undertaking further studies.  Further work intended for the area will lead to development of a management plan and the eventual registration of the area under the Environmental Management and Conservation Act N0.12 of 2002.

All volcanoes (and associated lakes) including that on Gaua have been identified by the Vanuatu Cultural Centre as important cultural sites.   

Comparison with other similar properties

Lake Letas is a unique place in the world due to its diverse and regionally-specific range of fauna and flora, including a swamp palm, 19 endemic plant species, and an exceptional number of endemic bird species.  It is also significant in terms of its natural beauty: a crater lake with an ability to reflect passing ships.