For the past seven years, I have led multiple trips to Honduras in Central America researching the social-ecological relationships surrounding 11,000 year-old Lake Yojoa. As part of my study, I spent the first part of 2013 as a Fulbright Fellow working with the University of Zamorano in Honduras teaching students about the watershed and brainstorming solutions for better management as well.
This lake epitomizes the “Tragedy of the Commons,” that is, the complexity of managing the lake sustainably for multiple stakeholders as well as its ecological health. Lake Yojoa is an economic life source for the local community, subsistence fisherman, industrial aquaculture farms, and a stretch of lake-side restaurants. Over the past thirty years however, the lake has been eutrifying or in other words, turning green due to an excess of algal growth – which is an indicator that the health of the lake is changing.
The goal of my study is to understand the causes of Lake Yojoa’s eutrophication and create a solution to achieve an ideal balance of sustainable environmental and economic health for the community with the help of the local residents and businesses. I luckily have access to a detailed dataset from the 1980s that helps my team and I compare the states of the lake as it was thirty years ago to as it is now. We take samples of sediment, water, and algae from the lake and test levels of dissolved nitrogen, phosphorus, and water turbidity. We also test the nutrient content, metal content, sediments, temperature, oxygen, and conductivity of the water.
My wish is that this study can be used as a model to help countries with developing economies produce sustainable freshwater livelihoods, indefinitely.