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.
Lake Malawi National Park UNESCO World Heritage site was established in 1980 and designated as a World Heritage site in 1984 for its natural beauty (criterion vii) and outstanding biodiversity values, notably due to its value to science as a remarkable example of biological evolution (criterion ix) and exceptional diversity of its freshwater fishes (criterion x).
This rich and unique lake ecosystem is increasingly threatened by human activities, such as overfishing and land-use change. The situation is exacerbated by Malawi’s challenging socio-economic situation marked by persistent poverty and population growth. Several fish species are now classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List and many more are threatened – an indicator of the poor health of the lake’s biodiversity. At the same time, local people depend on the natural resources for their food security, wellbeing and livelihoods.
Lake Malawi National Park is a unique protected area in Malawi that has village communities inside. Resources to manage the national park effectively are limited, while an increasing human population depends on the fisheries for their livelihoods, often relying on unsustainable fishing practices. This has led to the deterioration of the Lake Malawi’s natural values, as noted by the World Heritage Committee and the 2014 Reactive Monitoring mission.
Protection the Lake Malawi National Park UNESCO World Heritage site remains a global priority, while it is important to support sustainable development options for the local communities.
The project aims at improving the state of conservation of the Lake Malawi National Park, through the following actions:
The project addresses the following Sustainable Development Goals:
1 End Poverty – improving income security for those who rely on fishing and tourism for their livelihood by ensuring that fish are better protected, and numbers of endangered species increase. This will benefit fishers, their families and those who service the fishing industry, including women – the main fish sellers. It will also impact tourist lodges and those who rely on tourism for their livelihoods.
11: Target 11.4 “Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.” – The project contributes to the heritage target by supporting the protection of the fish species and diversity, the outstanding universal value of which is characteristic to the Lake Malawi National Park World Heritage site.
14: Life below water, especially target 14.4 on sustainable fishing – the project will improve life below water in Lake Malawi through amending and enforcing fish conservation by-laws and encouraging sustainable fishing practices. This supports biodiversity conservation but also contributes to fisheries-based local economy, as healthy lake ecosystem is also more productive.
15: Target 15.1 “By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements.” – The project contributes to conservation of the lake ecosystem and the lake’s biodiversity, supporting effective implementation of the World Heritage Convention.
17: Partnerships for the goals – building the capacity of Fisheries and Parks and Wildlife, supporting them with resources, skills and expertise, as well as working closely with them to protect Lake Malawi’s fish resources in the National Park and surrounding area.
The project supports also Malawi’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan as follows:
Target 4: integrating biodiversity values into national, sectoral and local development policies and plans, by the enforcement of local bylaws through partnership between relevant stakeholders.
Target 7: managing aquatic biodiversity through harvesting within ecological limits – by restricting fishing activity within the protected areas and enforcing fishing bylaws.
Target 11: minimising anthropogenic pressures on the vulnerable lake ecosystems by protecting key cichlid breeding areas and minimising damage caused by drag nets and trawlers
Target 12: increasing mesh sizes and protecting key breeding areas will help prevent extinction of known threatened species
Target 15: ensuring important ecosystems are safeguarded and restored. The project empowers members of fishing communities in Mangochi to take ownership of their fish resource, diversify their livelihoods and manage fish stocks sustainably.
Furthermore, the project is supportive of the strategic objectives of the World Heritage Convention, notably the “5 Cs” and the objectives that relate to the engagement of local communities in management and conservation of World Heritage sites, as well as conservation of natural heritage of outstanding universal value. The project is also supportive of the World Heritage policy on sustainable development, by seeking to ensure the protection of the ecosystem benefits that World Heritage sites provide and sharing of benefits arising from the conservation of World Heritage sites, supportive of people’s wellbeing.
Malawi Department of Parks and Wildlife, Malawi Department of Fisheries, Malawi National Commission for UNESCO and University of Malawi, Chancellor College, Ripple Africa, Government of Norway
The World Heritage Committee,