Safeguarding a Global Freshwater Fish Hotspot

Project Cost: $222,939

Funding Raised: $222,939

$21.34 per acre (1 acre = 43,560 sq ft)
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Freshwater ecosystems are seriously under-represented in the protected area network worldwide. Furthermore, there are few opportunities to conserve an intact freshwater fish community that hasn’t already been decimated by pollution or invasive species. The lakes of the Central African rift valley in Uganda are well-documented to contain some of the highest freshwater fish diversity in the world. Unfortunately, many have suffered significant species losses as a result of anthropogenic causes.

Recent surveys discovered an incredible assemblage of endemic freshwater fish in Lake Nyaguo in central Uganda. Incredibly, the lake is in near-pristine condition and contains numerous Critically Endangered cichlid species, some of which have disappeared from main lakes such as Victoria and Kyoga. The catchment areas of Lake Nyaguo have been identified as spawning and nursery habitat for fish, as well as bird nesting areas. However, unsustainable human activities such as habitat destruction, modification, fragmentation and pollution are jeopardizing habitat quality. The lake is outside existing protected areas, suffers from direct human impacts as communities overexploit resources and requires immediate protection in order to maintain ecological integrity.

Rainforest Trust seeks $222,939 to support our local partner National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI) in creating a new 10,448-acre permanent protected area. Working with local stakeholders, the establishment of Lake Nyaguo Community Conservation Area will ensure the protection of a remarkable freshwater fish hotspot.

Fast Facts

Lake Nyaguo, Uganda

10,448 acres

Key Species (Based on IUCN Red List):
Victoria Tilapia (Oreochromis variabilis, CR), Singidia Tilapia (CR), and numerous threatened haplochromine cichlids

A freshwater lake in Central Uganda that is a “living museum” of East African ecological history

Overfishing, agricultural expansion, reed and papyrus harvesting, drainage of wetlands

Create a permanently protected area with two fishing exclusion zones and a wetland buffer around the whole lake

Local Partner:
National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI)

Financial Need:

Cost Per Acre:

Total Carbon Storage (Mt CO2):


Lake Nyaguo potentially supports approximately 40 Critically Endangered fish species and other threatened wildlife, some of which were once found in the Lake Victoria and Lake Kyoga basins.

Lake Nyaguo potentially supports approximately 40 Critically Endangered fish species and other threatened wildlife, some of which were once found in the Lake Victoria and Lake Kyoga basins. It is one of the satellite lakes referred to as “living museums” of East African ecological history, and it has a significant abundance and species richness of threatened endemic fish species. The density and structural diversity of aquatic plants surrounding Lake Nyaguo have made it difficult for fishermen to access the lake, which has kept much of the biodiversity intact. Fish composition in the lake includes some species native to Lake Victoria, Lake Kyoga and surrounding catchments. Some fish species, especially cichlids, that have been either eliminated or face dangerously low numbers in the main lakes are still found in Lake Nyaguo. Among the tilapiine cichlids, significant populations of two native species, the Critically Endangered Victoria Tilapia and Singida Tilapia, are still present in this satellite lake though extirpated from Lake Victoria and Lake Kyoga. There are also several Endangered and Vulnerable bird species within the lake’s habitat, including the Endangered Grey Crowned-crane and the Madagascar Pond-heron, as well as the Vulnerable Shoebill, Blue Swallow and Papyrus Yellow Warbler.


The main threats affecting Lake Nyaguo and its surrounding catchment areas are overfishing and agricultural encroachment.

The main threats affecting Lake Nyaguo and its surrounding catchment areas are overfishing and agricultural encroachment. The uncontrolled harvesting of reeds and papyrus and the burning of vegetation during the dry season are degrading the ecological integrity and quality of the lake. Drainage and clearance of marginal wetlands for agriculture have resulted in the siltation of some sections of the lake, in addition to destroying breeding and nursery grounds of Critically Endangered native fish species. Intensive cultivation of rice along the edges of Lake Nyaguo has also resulted in destruction of riparian vegetation. If these issues are not addressed, the water purification capacity of riparian vegetation will be reduced, allowing pollutants to reach aquatic habitat, causing the mortality of fish that support the lives of thousands of Ugandans. The proposed protected area includes open water and surrounding wetlands, which will aid in the purification and absorption of pollutants that might otherwise enter the open water of the lake.


The local community will participate in the demarcation, designation and management of the protected area

They have been very helpful in sharing their indigenous knowledge in mapping these critical habitats and are supportive of efforts to create fishing exclusion zones on the lake. The project will not jeopardize the livelihoods of artisanal fishermen, since only a portion of Lake Nyaguo is considered to be breeding and nursery habitat and thereby restricted to fishing activities.


As a key habitat for endemic and endangered fish, bird, reptile and mammal species in East Africa, Lake Nyaguo is facing multiple human-induced threats related to agriculture, overexploitation of resources and pollution.

Rainforest Trust seeks $222,939 to support our local partner in creating a new 10,448-acre Lake Nyaguo Community Conservation Area to promote protection of imperiled fish and other wildlife. The protected area will consist of two fishing exclusion zones in the most important spawning habitat for the majority of the threatened fish species, as well as a wetland buffer surrounding the lake. The management plan will allow for seasonal community fishing using acceptable fishing methods outside the exclusion zones. Our partner has been working with local communities to map the breeding and nursery areas of threatened fish species in the satellite lakes of the Kyoga and Victoria basins, and local fishermen have been very helpful in sharing their indigenous knowledge. Our partner will work with local communities to create Fish Conservation Zones, which are managed and protected by Fish Conservation Committees. Based on successful past experiences, local communities will participate in the creation of these zones to help replenish dwindling fish populations that support their livelihoods. Our local partner will engage representatives from the Ministry of Water and Environment in implementing all project activities, particularly awareness, so that all stakeholders understand the long-term impacts of the proposed conservation area. Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries representatives will take part in developing the management plan and provide technical advice, and the Department of Wetland Inspection Division will be engaged in consultation meetings to achieve the intended project outcomes. The Uganda Wildlife Authority’s participation in all project activities will facilitate the handover of the newly created protected area to the government. They will also be engaged in a series of consultation meetings and workshops to plan sustainable protected area management strategies. District and local leaders will mobilize local communities and other stakeholders to participate in project awareness and communal meetings, workshops and trainings. We will support a patrol team composed of local people for the protected area.