The condition of Loktak Lake in Manipur, one of the largest freshwater bodies in the northeast, is deteriorating, researchers and scientists said. Loktak is famous for its floating islands and picturesque landscape.
Spread across 300 sq km, the lake is home to the 40 sq km Keibul Lamjao National Park, a thick floating biomass of weed and rice grass, and endangered Sangai deer.
The main threat to the lake is the waste flowing into it from paddy fields, untreated sewage from Imphal, plastic and degradation of the biomass in the water body.
To save it from inching towards an ICU-like state, an all-women team of scientists aided by a laboratory on a boat are studying and monitoring the health of the lake.
The five-member team of the Institute of Bio Resources and Sustainable Development (IBDS) are working in Loktak under the aegis of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology.
Parts of the lake have turned acidic due to excessive levels of phosphate, which could “de-calcify” snails and other organisms such as the shellfish, thus affecting the ecology of the lake, Director, IBDS, Dinbandhu Sahoo said.
Degradation of phumdis, a thick floating biomass of weeds and rice grass, is also a reason for concern. The lake is known for locals using these floating biomass to form phumdis for residing and even trapping fish.
The lab has all the necessary equipment to measure vital parameters to assess the Loktak’s health, officials said.
Most of the boats in the lake are made by clubbing fiber drums with a wooden plank on it. These do not meet the requirements for conducting experiments. Manufacturing a boat for the lab was also a daunting task due to lack of local expertise, Sahoo said.
“It will be wrong to say that Loktak is on ventilator, but yes, it is inching towards being in an ICU state,” he said.
The floating laboratory measures different parameters– the temperature, phosphate level, conductivity, dissolved oxygen,turbidity, Rajkumari Supriya, a senior research fellow (SRF) at the IBDS, said, reports Business Standard.
Researchers also collect biomass that is taken for testing at the laboratory in Imphal, she said.
“Besides this, we also do nitrogen and phosphate tests to check their levels,” said Kikku Kinui, another SRF at the institute.
Staff also faces the threat due to insurgency in the northeastern state.
The lake is so huge that collecting samples, which Sahoo said is very vital for knowing its health, could sometimes be precarious.
“It is still unsafe to visit some parts of the lake. We are trying to come up with a mechanism where we can have buoys that could collect the samples and give us the data without the scientists actually visiting sensitive sites,” he said.