International Conference on Ancient Lakes: Their Biological and Cultural Diversities

The “International Conference on Ancient Lakes” (ICAL’97) was the main event commemorating the opening of the Lake Biwa Museum. It took place from 21-28th June, 1997. The purpose of ICAL’97 was twofold. Firstly, to present a forum for the exchange of scientific and historical knowledge on the present status of ancient lakes, from both biological and cultural perspectives. The second objective was to search for ways to conserve the biota and habitats of these lakes, which have become endangered and threatened by the rapid social and environmental changes taking place throughout the world.

Ancient lakes are defined as longlived lakes with a relatively stable development of physical parameters; features which have produced conditions favourable to high biological speciation. Although ancient lakes are few in number, many of the largest lakes in the world belong to this elite group. Among them, Lakes Baikal, Biwa, Malawi, Tanganyika, Titicaca and Victoria are of particular importance in having high biodiversity and high endemicity.

Over 250 persons from 22 countries or areas attended the conference, at which over 100 oral presentations and 50 poster presentations were given. Following the 8 days of discussion, the following key points and trends were identified.

Firstly, ancient lakes are unique and integrated heritages of the world. As noted at the Rio Convention on Biodiversity 1992, the conservation of biodiversity is of fundamental importance for the integrity of natural ecosystems of ancient lakes and for future human wellbeing.

Secondly, humans have developed indigenous cultures around the lake shores. These cultures have coevolved with each lake’s biota, and this process has resulted in strong connections between cultural and biological diversities.

Thirdly, in addition to a suite of common threats faced by all, each ancient lake is presently suffering from its own unique problems. Included among these are the introduction of exotic species, the deterioration of water quality, loss of biodiversity, and threats to indigenous lake shore cultures.

Fourthly, it was found that local people are often intimately familiar with the lake’s environment and biota. Developing and collating inventories of local peoples’ knowledge is thus paramount in promoting a better association between lakes and humans while conserving the biological and cultural diversities of the lakes.

The conference proceedings are now under preparation and will be published in the near future. In addition to performing independent studies of lakes, the Lake Biwa Museum is eager to coordinate with the International Lake Environment Committee (ILEC) regarding research, communication and training activities on the above themes, and also actively encourages collaborative projects with researchers and institutions worldwide.

Yukiko Kada and Hiroya Kawanabe
Lake Biwa Museum
5250001, Japan