Lake Yojoa, Honduras: The changing state of a large tropical lake during 30 years of human caused stress
Lake Yojoa is Honduras’s only natural lake and has a legacy of providing ecosystem services to human societies. Historically Lake Yojoa has been host to communities of Mayan and pre-Mayan populations with archeological records dating back 3000 years before present and additional evidence of continuous agriculture by indigenous groups between 4500 and 800 years BP. Today, a combination of intensive aquaculture, untreated sewage, nutrient and contaminant run-off from agriculture, and heavy metal loading from active and historic mining, has placed unprecedented strain on the Yojoa ecosystem. These ongoing impacts in the face of a growing human population make Lake Yojoa a model system representative of the complex interaction of natural processes and human demands placed on freshwater ecosystems worldwide. While there have been several small independent studies conducted on Lake Yojoa, there exists no comprehensive analysis of the state of the lake or how interaction between the stakeholders and the lake ecosystem affects the state of the ecosystem.
I will present an overview of how the Lake Yojoa Ecosystem has been altered by human activity over the past 30 years and discuss the potential for impacts on the various livelihoods that depend on the Yojoa ecosystem. In addition, we outline a citizen-science monitoring program with the goal to increase the spatial and temporal coverage of environmental data collection and to create a participatory network of contaminant transport through monitoring by stakeholders. We hypothesize that participation by stakeholders in environmental monitoring will create a better understanding of how activities within the watershed propagate to the affect the lake. Creating economic development without impeding the ecosystem services that already drive local economies is on of the central challenges facing large freshwater ecosystems world-wide. Lake Yojoa illustrates some of these challenges and we present a model of a coupled human and natural system that addresses these challenges to long term human and natural system sustainability.