Lake Malawi National Park (14°02'S, 34°53'E) is a World Heritage Site located on a peninsula between distant mountains at the southern end of the great expanse of Lake Malawi. This National Park, with its deep clear waters, is home to many hundred species of fish, nearly all endemic. Their importance for the study of evolution is comparable to that of the Galapagos Islands finches.
On and around the Nankhumba Peninsula which divides the southern end of Lake Malawi (L.Nyasa). The Park includes Boadzulu I., Mpande I., the Maleri group and seven other offshore islets, the separate Mwenya Hills, Nkhudzi Hills and Nkhudzi Point at the eastern base of the peninsula and an aquatic zone extending 100 meters (m) offshore of all these areas. 14°02'S, 34°53'E.
Date and History of Establishment
- 1934: Forest reserves on some of the islands protected;
- 1972: Forest protection extended to the hills of Cape Maclear, Mwenya and Nkhudzi;
- 1980: Park established under the National Parks Act NP (Est),Order 1980, Government Notice # 205; It protects several separate terrestrial areas and all lake waters within 100 m of these areas.
9,400 hectares (ha).
Government; in Mangochi District, Southern Region, and Salima District, Central Region. Administered by the Department of National Parks & Wildlife (DNPW).
Up to 1,140 m (Nkunguni Mountain).
The National Park is on the very scenic northern tip of the Nankhumba peninsula which divides the southern end of Lake Malawi. The lake, lying within the Western Rift Valley, is a unique inland sea 560 kilometers (km) long and very deep. It forms a separate biogeographical province. The lake's water is permanently stratified, having a warm epilimnion overlying a cooler hypolimnion and is remarkably clear. There are marked seasonal variations in wind, temperature and rainfall. The water level fluctuates according to season with a long-term cycle of fluctuation over years. Recent years have seen increases to the highest levels since recording began, probably due to increased rainfall and to forest clearing on the high plateau above. The peninsula has poor rocky soils very susceptible to erosion. In general, the hills are wooded and rise steeply from the lakeshore. Cape Maclear at the north end is rocky, predominantly biotite-granite. There are a number of sandy bays including a fine beach near Chembe and Otter Point. The islands are mainly or entirely rocky, separated from each other and from the mainland by sandy flats and deep water. Habitat types vary from cliffs and bouldery shores to pebbly and sandy beaches and from wooded hillsides to occasional swamps and lagoons. There is a range of underwater habitats: sandy, weedy, rock-sand interface, intermediate and reed beds.
The terrestrial areas of the park, except for the smallest islands, were once heavily wooded. Originally, this community comprised baobab Adansonia digitata and several species of Ficus, Sterculia, Khaya, and Albizzia. The ground flora has not been studied in depth. Through clearing of the forest, many woodland areas have been altered to shrubby vegetation and cultivation. The upper slopes are dominated by mountain acacia Brachystegia glaucescens. The underwater rocks are densely coated with algae which sustain much of the large population of fish.
The Park was established primarily to protect some of Lake Malawi's very rich aquatic life. The lake contains the largest number of fish species of any lake in the world: over 1,000 from eleven families with perhaps half occurring in the Park area. Endemism exceeds 90% and the degree of adaptive radiation and speciation within the lake is remarkable, particularly among the Cichlidae (mbuna, rockfish). The lake contains 30% of all known cichlid species of which all but five species of over 400 are endemic to Lake Malawi. More than 70% of mbuna species are not described and the taxonomic affinities of many are uncertain. They are highly colored, highly territorial and very specialized, and most species are mouth-brooders. There are 28 other fish species endemic to the lake.
Mammals include chacma baboon Papio ursinus, blue monkey Cercopithecus albogulais, vervet monkey C. aethiops, spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta, clawless otter Aonyx capensis,spotted-necked otter Lutra maculicollis, leopard Panthera pardus, rock hyrax Procavia capensis, yellow-spotted hyrax Heterohyrax brucei, occasional elephant Loxodonta africana (EN: reported coming down to the lake between the Mwenya and Nkhudzi Hills), bush pig Potamochoerus porcus, hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius, greater kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros, bushbuck T. scriptus, zebra Equus burchelli, klipspringer Oreotragus oreotragus, impala Aepyceros melampus, grysbok Raphicerus melanotis and grey duiker Sylvicapra grimmia. The varied birdlife includes black eagle Aquila verreauxii, fish eagle Haliaeetus vocifer along the shoreline and many waders. The islands, especially Mumbo and Boadzulu, are important nesting sites for several thousand white-breasted cormorant Phalacrocorax lucidus. Reptiles include occasional African python Python sebae sebae and crocodile Crocodylus niloticus and abundant water monitor lizards Varanus niloticus especially on Boadzulu Island. A list of snakes is given in Tweddle.
Fourth century Iron Age sites have been found in the Park area.
Local Human Population
Much of the lakeshore is heavily populated. Five shoreline villages, Chembe, Masaka, Mvunguti, Zambo and Chidzale, are included within enclaves in the park cut off bypark and lake. Their numbers were about 5,400 in 1977 but the country's population has increased greatly since then. As the soil of the peninsula is poor and crops fail about 50% of the time, local people are dependent on fishing for a livelihood. Some 40,000 people make a living directly from the lake in offshore fisheries, catching 70% of the country's animal protein intake. The Park has been zoned to allow traditional fishing methods aimed at catching migratory fish in limited areas, although in most of the Park the resident fish are completely protected.
Visitors and Visitor Facilities
There is some tourist development within the boundaries. Several small hotels are planned which will be designed to blend in with the environment. The recreation site at Cape Maclear is heavily used and includes a resthouse, bar, caravan and camping site. The World Wide Fund for Nature sponsored the development of an environmental education complex, located within the park boundaries at Cape Maclear. The initial complex comprised an environmental interpretation center, an aquarium, and a research library/conference area, and became operational in 1990. Additional developments have included a youth hostel and glass-bottomed boat for aquatic interpretation. The center aims to educate local people, as well as international visitors. Exhibits range from the formation of the rift valley to the historical and cultural heritage, the creation of the park, designation as a World Heritage Site, and the importance of protecting the resource.
Scientific Research and Facilities
There is a research station at Monkey Bay owned by the Department of Fisheries and a Research Sub-unit runs research and monitoring programs. Most research has concentrated on fish, conducted mainly by overseas scientists and latterly, by Malawian graduate students.
Lake Malawi National Park is the only lacustrine park in Africa, protecting several hundred species of fish, most of which are endemic. Lake Malawi's importance in the study of evolution by adaptive radiation is comparable to that of the Galapagos Islands and their finches.
This was the world's first freshwater underwater Park. Its aim is to protect examples of Lake Malawi's aquatic communities so the steep hills immediately behind the shoreline are protected to prevent eroded sediments polluting the lake. A management plan is being implemented. A managed fishing zone is designated just offshore incorporating some islands within the park, but trawling is prohibited. Other fishing methods such as gill netting, long line and trapping are prohibited within the 100 m aquatic zone of the reserve. The management plan details four conservation zones within the park: Special zone, Wilderness zone, Natural zone and General zone. Most of the terrestrial area is in the Natural or Wilderness zones; the lacustrine habitats are in the Special zone. Reforestation of the peninsula is a critical part of protecting the water quality. There are plans to plant trees in a 1,200 ha section in the south of the peninsula to supply fuelwood and poles to local people. A forestry nursery has been started in the park to begin reforestation of the peninsula. The goal is to plant 30,000 seedlings annually both in the park and in nearby village enclaves for future firewood and building purposes. A small demonstration plot adjacent to junior staff housing should provide fuelwood to staff members. In 1999 the Lake Malawi / Nyasa / Niassa Transfrontier Conservation Area was proposed by the Peace Parks Foundation of southern Africa. It will include other parks in Malawi, Lago Niassa Reserve in Mozambique, the Selous Reserve and a corridor to the sea in Tanzania.
Although there are no human settlements within the Park boundaries much of the lakeshore is heavily populated and local people depend on fishing for a livelihood. Overfishing and pollution threaten the lake's fish, especially the cichlids for which the Park is the only refuge in the country. The brightly-colored mbuna cichlids also provide a substantial export trade to collectors. The Park was threatened by a $15 million luxury resort development at Cape Maclear, the water around which is already polluted by powerboats. Clearing of timber for building, firewood and cultivation has increased, particularly on Nankoma Island, part of Mumbo Island, around Chembe village and in the Mwenya and Nkhudzi Hills. Because of the limnological characteristics of the lake, should it be contaminated, the renewal time would be in the order of 1,700 years. Effective protection of the water zones of the park (only 0.04% of the lake's total area) can only be ensured by proper management of the whole lake.
20 full-time and 33 temporary workers.
Annual budget of US$ 50,000 (undated information). Between 1987 and 1990 the WWF granted US$ 109,000 for improvements in the management, infrastructure, recreational facilities and for local education and awareness programs.
IUCN Management Category
- II (National Park)
- Natural World Heritage Site inscribed in 1984. Natural Criteria ii, iii, iv
- Clarke, J. (1983). Protected Areas Masterplan for the Southern Region. Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Lilongwe.
- Croft, T. (1981). Lake Malawi: a case study in conservation planning. Parks 6(3): 7-11.
- Glenfell, S. (1993). Lake Malawi National Park Management and Development Plan. Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Lilongwe.
- Hough,J. (1989). Malawi's National Parks and Game Reserves. Wildlife Society of Malawi, Blantyre.
- Lewis, P.,Reinthal, P.& Trendall, J. (1986). A Guide to the Fishes of Lake Malawi National Park. WWF, Gland, Switzerland. 71 pp. ISBN: 2880850002.
- Mbanefo, S. (1992). Lake Malawi National Park. Our Living World. July: 10-11.
- Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) (2003). Lake Malawi / Nyassa / Niassa Transfrontier Conservation Area .South Africa.
- Ribbink, A. Marsh, A., Ribbinck, A and Sharp, B. (1983). A preliminary survey of the cichlid fish of the rocky habitats of Malawi. African Journal of Zoology 18(3): 149-310.
- Tudge, C. (1992). All fish bright and beautiful. New Scientist: 8 February 1992.
- Tweddle, D. (1984). Snakes of the Lake Malawi National Park. Nyala 10(1): 43-44.
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