Magazine article Geographical

Swamp Devil Tackles African Weed

Magazine article Geographical

Swamp Devil Tackles African Weed

Article excerpt

Scientists believe the tide could be turning on attempts to control water hyacinths that are choking the life out of Lake Victoria, the world's second largest freshwater lake. Since the mid-1990s agriculturists from the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have been tackling the Latin-American weed; finally there are signs that it could be in retreat.

The battle to control the invader, however, has only just begun. Satellite technology has identified a source of nutrients that has encouraged the weed's proliferation, threatening the ecosystem, and forming vast green swathes which stretch towards the horizon. The floating weed, Eichhornia crassipes, provides covers for crocodiles and snakes, encourages malaria and bilharzia, blocks ferries and fishing boats, and has clogged the intake pipes of Uganda's main power station, causing black outs in the capital.

Under a $70 million World Bank -funded programme -- the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project (LVEMP) -- scientists are now attacking the problem using biological and mechanical control methods. Last November the first of two `Swamp Devils', mechanical harvesters which cut the weed 1.7 metres below the surface, began work on the lake. "You can liken it to mowing the lawn under water," says Jane Dauffenbach, president of Aquarius Systems, which won the harvesting contract. …

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