Public and Ecosystem Health Impacts of Aquaculture Systems in Lake Victoria, Kenya

Fellow: Eric Teplitz

Mentor: Kathryn Fiorella

Public & Ecosystem Health
Sponsor: Cornell Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future
Title: Public and Ecosystem Health Impacts of Aquaculture Systems in Lake Victoria, Kenya
Project Amount: $7,898
Project Period: February 2023 to January 2024

DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): 

Harmful algal blooms are a global phenomenon that are increasing in frequency, duration, and scale as a consequence of anthropogenic nutrient pollution. Concurrently, aquaculture production systems, which are pivotal to achieving food security yet impact aquatic ecosystem health, are proliferating rapidly. Over the coming decades, navigating the food systems transitions required to balance environmental health with human nutrition is a key challenge. The Lake Victoria system in East Africa is an emblematic and timely model of these co-occurring challenges: persistent harmful algal blooms are increasing in scale as a nascent cage aquaculture industry undergoes explosive growth to meet increasing demand for fish. Lake Victoria is the world’s largest and most biodiverse lake fishery, and it provides a critical food supply and employment to more than 30 million people in East Africa. Cyanobacterial-producing harmful algal blooms (cyanoHABs) are highly prevalent in Lake Victoria and involve production of a potent liver toxin known as microcystin that accumulates in fish populations. My project will investigate the risk of human toxicosis through farmed and wild-caught fish consumption, characterize the spatiotemporal occurrence of cyanoHABs, and identify relevant fish health challenges. During the summer of 2023, fish will be collected and analyzed for fatty acid and microcystin content to determine the risk-benefit tradeoff of fish consumption. Additionally, remote sensing tools, paired with water quality validation data, will be used to spatiotemporally map cyanoHABs in Lake Victoria. Parasitology examinations, bacterial cultures, and interviews with aquaculture farmers will be used to understand and identify major fish health challenges.