Turkana research station

KMFRI Lake Turkana Station is located within Kalokol town in Turkana County. It is 60 km from Lodwar town and approximately 370 km north of Kitale. The station is situated midpoint along the western side of Lake Turkana. It is mandated to undertake aquatic research that support the development and sustainable management of fishery resources in the lake and in all the water bodies (rivers, ponds, dams and lakes) within Lake Turkana catchment area.

KMFRI Lake Turkana Station

Geographically, Lake Turkana is located within Latitude 2° 27´ - 4° 40´N and Longitude 35° 50´ - 36° 60´E. It is the largest lake within Kenya territory and globally the largest desert lake. At an elevation of 365 metres above the sea level; it is at the lowest point and the most northern of the 7 lakes located at the bottom of the Eastern Great Rift Valley, a valley that bisects Kenya in a north - South direction. The lake surface area is 7,560 km2, length 260 km, mean water depth 31 m and average width 30 km. It is fed by three perennial rivers; the Omo, Turkwel and Kerio. The Omo is a tranboundary resource that flows from the Ethiopian Highlands and supplies over 90% of all the water discharged into the lake. The Kenya based rivers of Turkwel and Kerio supply less than the remaining 10% and has minimal influence on the annual lake water level changes. 

Despite lack of visible outlet, the lake enjoys moderate salinity, supports over 50 described fresh water fish species and boasts a unique assemblage of aquatic flora and fauna. As recently as 7000 years the lake was huge and believed to have had a connection to the River Nile hence the similarity in its fish species with those of the Nile Basin. The uniqueness of Lake Turkana, the geomorphological and paleontological features and a diverse assemblage of aquatic flora and fauna therein have been critical in the designation of three locations as Ramsar sites by UNESCO.

KMFRI mercantile staff participating in the identification and mapping of fish breeding areas

KMFRI research focus on Lake Turkana is guided by its immense value and the strategic location of the lake in the expansive Arid and Semi Arid Land (ASAL) area of north western Kenya; an area  characterised by very low rainfall and high poverty levels. The fish and other resources within the lake have the potential to make significant contribution to the national economy and support alternative livelihood sources for the inhabitants of the riparian counties. But this location in the ASAL area also makes the lake to be highly susceptible to the ravages of drought, climate change and human induced environmental changes. Threats posed by the latter changes include the ongoing damming of river Omo for hydroelectric power production and large scale plantation irrigation agriculture, pollution from agribased and urban based sources and the emerging nascent hydrocarbon based extractive industry. These have the potential to alter the ecosystem health of the lake, impair aquatic productivity and cause decline in fish production. 

Research Activities

Past Research
Past aquatic research had been undertaken intermittently on an expeditionary basis by international and national scientists due to the remote location of lake Turkana in a climatically hostile terrain,. Efforts by scientists from the former East Africa Fresh Water Fisheries Research Organisation (EAFFRO) based in Jinja and that by the British government sponsored Lake Turkana Research Project of 1971-1975 provided valuable baseline information on the limnology, fish and the fishery of the lake. In the mid 1980s to early 1990s, Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) supported fishery development activities and research. The research, which was collaboratively undertaken by scientists from Norway and KMFRI focused on hydracoustic survey, limnology and aquaculture trials along the lake.

KMFRI staff trains a beneficiary of a newly constructed fish solar drier at Namukuse BMU on its operations.

Current Research
More recently KMFRI research initiatives and those collaboratively undertaken in partnership with various stakeholders, have been aimed at mitigating the limnology, fisheries and socioeconomic challenges. Specifically, the focus has been to provide information on the state of the aquatic environment and the fisheries of the lake and to continuously monitor changes.

Key achievements
Highlights of the achievements over the years include:-

  • Over 20 years of monthly recording of changes in lake water level to inform on trends and for monitoring purposes. This was originally initiated with support from NORAD.
  • Baseline information on the biology, ecology and fishery status of the key commercial fish species collected and archived. Time series information on catch trends and fishing effort in the highly productive Ferguson’s gulf is available and continuing for management purposes.
  • Preliminary biomass estimates of the stocks of pelagic fish species in the central sector of the lake was undertaken collaboratively with scientists from the Institute of Hydrobiology of the the Czech Republic. This information has application in fish stock assessment.
  • Preliminary assessment of some aspects of the ecological and socioeconomic importance of the river Omo Wetlands has been undertaken with the Support of the National Council of Science and Technology. The study highlights the importance of the wetlands to the wellbeing of the lake and also as a source of livelihoods to the riparian communities.
  • Information on the distribution of critical fish habitats indicating breeding and major fishing grounds has been generated for planning and management.
  • Appropriate technology for managing heavy post harvest fish losses developed and is on trial for adoption with a view to upscaling use by various fisher organisations/Beach Management units (BMUs) in both Turkana sand Marsabit Counties. Oxfam GB supported the construction of 23 driers at nine BMUs in Turkana North subcounty while KMFRI has been responsible for the construction of others in both Turkana central and North sub-counties.
  • Piloting of Electronic Fish Market Information System (EFMIS) to provide fishers and traders with up-to-date information on fish prices at various beaches along Lake Turkana including key markets outside Turkana and Marsabit counties started and on going.
  • Technical support towards the ongoing development of Lake Turkana Fisheries Management Plan being provided. 
    KMFRI provides opportunity for students and young school leavers to acquire skills necessary for fisheries management.

Opportunities for Collaboration, Partnership and Student Attachment
Given the sheer size of the lake and enormous challenges faced by the riparian communities in relation to sustainable management of Lake Turkana aquatic resources, KMFRI welcomes collaboration and partnership that will enhance knowledge generation for the benefit of the resource users. In the past, the station has collaborated with several institutions at local and international level. These included the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), Syracuse University, Stony Brook University, and the Czech Academy of Sciences (Institute of Parasitology), Oxfam GB and GIZ. At the national level attachment opportunities have been offered for students from Egerton, Maseno, Kisii, Karatina and Mount Kenya Universities and other middle level colleges to enable them acquire practical skills. 

Station Coordinator:
Mr. Maurice Obiero
enya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute
Lake Turkana Research Station
P.O. Box 205-30500
Mobile:- +254 (0) 735495099
Email: mobiero@kmfri.go.ke
Lodwar, KENYA

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