The Luangwa River rises in the range of the Mafinga Mountains that form the border between Zambia and Malawi. As the river flows, a number of tributaries feed into it, therefore increasing the water flow from the Southern to Northern part of Muchinga, Eastern and part of Lusaka province. More than half of the population of the people that reside along the river depend on it for survival. It is for this very reason many refer to it as a life line for many communities dotted along its magnificent shores. The importance of the Luangwa River cannot be ignored as it feeds and services different vegetation types, as well as different species of animals living in the ecosystems it encroaches both in the North and South respectively. It is in this view that Ichipululu thought of sharing about ‘life beneath the amazing river’ and many others like it.
How wonderful and reassuring it is to constantly know that you always have a place to go to and feel like you belong; a place where your wellbeing flourishes to its maximum potential, a place where your existence plays a vital role in the overall sustenance of a community in its entirety. Not only is this a place where you go in times of trouble, but such a place becomes your home. Likewise, animals have special places they thrive in called habitats.
A habitat is a special place where an animal or plant species thrives. For an animal to be well adjusted to its habitat, that habitat has to have amongst many other things, all the basic needs that the animal will depend on for its survival. These include enough food, plenty of water, shelter, plenty of clean air and enough space for it to roam around and explore is horizons.
Some habitats are terrestrial, that is, based on land, and others are aquatic, that is, water based. The nature of a habitat influences the type of species that is found in a particular habitat. This is noted by the fact that they have developed special adaptations to help them live in that very habitat.
Aquatic habitats, especially underwater habitats are unique in nature. It may seem as if nothing really happens in an underwater habitat, but the truth is that there are a whole lot of activities and interactions taking place. Many of which we benefit from, indirectly or directly and some are clearly visible to us, while others are not. But this is certain, underwater habitats are home to a diverse set of life forms.
Various forms of species such as worms, fish, snails, frogs, insect larvae, crabs and beneficial plant species depend on underwater habitats. Other terrestrial animals depend on the aquatic life forms for their food thereby creating a cycle of interdependence within the ecosystem. For instance, an eagle will hunt for fish in an underwater habitat that it will in turn use to feed its offspring, and the reeds along the water bodies provide safe nesting grounds for small birds. This is an ideal safety measure for birds as it makes it difficult for predators to access their nest.
Underwater habitats house other big animal species like hippos that keep the waterways clean and clear by way of feeding on the weeds that would otherwise clog the normal flow of water. They also change water courses in order to maintain water flow and other small life forms that reduce the number of mosquito larvae by feeding on them. These underwater habitats are all around us. These include; streams, rivers, dams and lakes. It’s no secret that we need to safeguard them if they are to continuously exist and survive into the near future.
Unfortunately, habitat destruction is one of the top five global ecological factors affecting underwater habitats, along with fishing pressure and climate change. Not forgetting ocean acidification, water pollution and the introduction of alien species or genotypes to new aquaticecosystems.
Damage of aquatic habitats kills the plants and animals responsible for the habitat’s normal ecological functions and, in some cases, its survival and regeneration. The causes of habitat destruction are numerous but can be trickled down to the following main causes; runoff from agricultural activities near and around aquatic habitats, infrastructural development, removal of vegetation around aquatic habitats which in the process introduces sediments from soil erosion occurring at the coast or further up a watershed, bottom trawling which damages underwater habitats by dragging large fishing nets at the bottom of a river, sea or lake in order to catch a larger amount of fish.
Underwater habitat destruction can have a significant impact on aquatic biodiversity as species distribution, abundance and inter-population dynamics are affected and entire ecosystems are changed by the loss of habitat.
In most African countries, destructive fishing practices (e.g. bottom trawling, dynamiting, and poisoning) have displaced and destroyed habitats, eliminating food, shelter and breeding grounds for numerous species and decreasing primary production due to increased sedimentation. Loss and destruction of aquatic habitat for commercially harvested species can reduce food and livelihood security.
In summary, it has been noted that human population increase, pollution, introduction of alien and invasive species, poor habitat management, unsound agricultural practices and the effects of a changing climate are some of the major ways in which these underwater habitats have come under threat of collapsing and species going extinct. These vices have to be regularly kept in check so that the conservation and environmental wellbeing of underwater habitats is promoted, assured and guaranteed.
Wildlife & Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia
P.O. Box 30255, Lusaka, Zambia.
Telefax: 260-211-251630, Cell: 0977-780770