Lake Letas is regarded as the largest volcanic lake in the Pacific.
The Vanuatu Government, through the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation (DEPC), is working on including Lake Letas on Gaua island as a wetland of international importance under the Convention of Wetlands (Ramsar).
Director of DEPC, Donna Kalfatak confirmed a submission has been made through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to join the Ramsar Convention.
A requirement to join the Convention includes a wetland site to be included with the instrument.
Located at the base of Mt Garet Volcano, Lake Letas is regarded as the largest volcanic lake in the Pacific, outside of Papua New Guinea.
It is around two kilometres wide and over four kilometres in length.
Kalfatak said studies had to be undertaken, with stakeholders, at the lake and its surrounding area before submission was made.
This was done in collaboration with the people, Area Council and chiefs of Gaua Island along with Torba Provincial Government.
“In 2012 a study found that eels in the lake were the biggest in size compared to studies done other Pacific Island Countries,” the Director said, adding that nutrients from the volcano may have a role in the size of eels.
“So far we have three different species of eels and prawns,” the Director said.
She said the lake is under the control of the chiefs on Gaua – and harvesting resources for food from the lake or its surrounding area should be done in a sustainable manner.
Last year the Department of Environment along with Fisheries Department and Geology and Mines Department conducted awareness programmes to educate the communities on Gaua of the area’s protection under the Environment Protection and Conservation Act.
“The interesting thing about this lake is that despite the large volume of water exiting the lake, the water level is retained, even in the dry season.
“In 2014 we did a study and found that there were 33 streams feeding the lake.
“That is why it is important to protect the forest that surrounds the lake,” the Director of DEPC said.
She acknowledged Senior Conservation Officer, Rolenas Bareleo Tavue for her role on the work on registering Lake Letas as an internationally recognised wetland site.
Kalfatak says Vanuatu has 13 sites that qualify as national wetland sites that are in the national registry.
Many, like Lake Letas are home to endemic species (plants and animals only found in that particular area).
There are criteria for such areas to be included in the list that take into consideration the uniqueness of the candidate area.
These include harbouring endemic species as well as becoming an area where people can earn a living through a properly protected and controlled management plan.
Kalfatak said Lake Letas also fits very well with three international conventions that Vanuatu is a party to.
These are the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD); United Nations Convention on Wetlands (or Ramsar Convention); and World Heritage (WH) Convention – as a WH natural site or criteria.
It is currently under World Heritage sites tentative list for Vanuatu.
The DEPC Director said the Department of Geology and Mines has also indicated that the lake also fits under Geopark, as determined under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
Other important national wetland sites include the ‘duck lake’ on Efate and the Matevulu Blue Hole on Santo as well as Port Stanley on Malekula.
Vanuatu’s action to conserve and register its wetland areas is timely as parts of the world have done the same amid so much environmental degradation caused by humans.