On Central America’s deepest lake, Indigenous communities battle against a $215m wastewater project proposed by environmentalists.
Some time in 1958, though no one is sure of the exact date, fish quite literally dropped out of the sky into Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.
Raining down from seaplanes, the black bass proceeded to eat the local crabs, snails, fish and even duck chicks. They were part of a plan by Pan Am, the American international airline, to encourage more tourism to Central America’s deepest lake by populating it with a popular sport fishing species.
The plan didn’t work. But what the invasive fish did manage to do was decimate the local biodiversity and kill off an estimated 16 native fish species. The Atitlan grebe, a duck only found at the lake, dwindled from 200 in 1960 to fewer than 100 by 1965.
In fact, in 1964, the American ecologist Anne LaBastille, known internationally as the “Woodswoman”, came to Guatemala on a mission to save the Atitlan grebe.
The mottled black and brown duck nested in the reed crops grown by the local Indigenous people who have used the reeds to weave mats for more than 800 years. But LaBastille was convinced that the harvesting of the reeds by the Indigenous farmers was disturbing the duck’s nesting and reproduction. So in 1968, she intervened with the central government to introduce a law which would “avoid excessive cutting” of local “tul” reeds on Lake Atitlan.