Lake Atitlán, Guatemala: The Lonely Planet Guide Book describes it as “the closest thing to Eden on Earth”. Its shoreline and surrounding mountains are home to the indigenous Kaqchikel and Tz’utujil Maya, whose ancient languages and traditions are still widely used here, and whose health and livelihoods are inextricably linked with Lake Atitlán, the “navel of the universe”, the Mayan equivalent of the Garden of Eden.
Lake Atitlán sits 1560 meters up in an enormous caldera, with three volcanoes on or near its shores. It is the deepest lake in Central America, with an average depth of 220 meters, and has 130 square kilometers of surface area. The climate is perfect; the flora and fauna are spectacular. Tourism is booming.
But below the beautiful surface…
Lake Atitlán’s ecosystem has been devastated by decades of continuous pollution. Untreated sewage and wastewater from more than 20 towns, vast quantities of runoff from chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and waste from commercial tilapia farms continue to pour into the lake, year after year.
The crater has no outflow, so everything that goes into the lake stays in. It is now so contaminated that it faces a real and imminent threat of ecological collapse, of death, with dire impacts on local communities.
According to the scientific agency in charge of monitoring Lake Atitlán, AMSCLAE (and a study by Amigos del Lago Atitlán), without immediate action the lake will be dead from eutrophication — oxygen depletion caused by contamination — within 3 to 7 years. (For more info, see this 2016 report, Lake Atitlán: Past, Present and Potential Futures, by Dorothea Dix for CEAt (Center for Atitlán Studies, Universidad del Valle).
Doing nothing is not an option.
The Lake Atitlán Environmental Interests Group (LAEIG) is a team of volunteers working to mitigate and repair the damage now, while there is still time, by using natural remediation and pollution prevention techniques. Our current projects focus on Tul Reforestation, Floating Rings, Floating Gardens, and Non-Polluting Tilapia Aquaculture.
How can you help?