Lake Titicaca, South America

This Andean lake sits 12,507 feet above mean sea level along the Peruvian-Bolivian border.

5. Description

Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and the world's highest navigable lake. This Andean lake sits 12,507 feet above mean sea level along the Peruvian-Bolivian border. Its overall depth is about 351 feet. The rivers of Suchez, Huancané, Coata, Ramis, and Ilave all contribute to the lake's water volume. An additional 20 streams also flow into the lake. About 41 inhabited islands are dot the surface of the lake. The lake is composed of 2 separate sub-basins joined by the Strait of Tiquina. The Lago Grande is the bigger sub-basin while the Lago Pequeño is the smaller sub-basin.

4. Historical Role

#4 Historical Role

The name Titicaca comes from the native dialect word, “Titi Khar'ka” interpreted as Rock of the Puma. The shape of the entire lake resembles that of a puma pouncing on a long-eared rabbit. The Lake Titicaca is famous for its 44 man-made reed islands called Uros. These inhabited floating artificial islands are a remnant of the ancient past retained by some indigenous people who moved their islands in case of threats and attacks. The reed islands also have reed watchtowers. The other 41 soil islands are also inhabited by indigenous peoples who are Southern Quechua speakers. In fact, each island has its unique culture such as Tiwanaku, Quechua, and Inca with a unique traditional way of life.

3. Modern Significance

Today, tourism is of major economic importance to the lives of the indigenous peoples living on Lake Titicaca. Native art pieces and handicrafts are also popular products for the tourists. UNESCO honored the textile produced on the islands as "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity." The most popular islands for tourism are Taquile Island, Amantaní, Isla del Sol, Isla de la Luna, Suriqui, and Uros. The indigenous people subsist on fishing, potato farming, and terraced horticulture of quinoa, legumes, and vegetables. Cattle-raising also contributes to the lake people's economic needs. The Lake Titicaca has populations of introduced high economic value fish such as mackerel and trout which adds to the economic value of the area.

2. Habitat and Biodiversity

#2 Habitat and Biodiversity

A year-round cold weather represents the climate in and around the Lake Titicaca. Yearly precipitation is about 24 inches delivered by summer thunderstorms. Chilly mornings and nights characterize the winter season. The lake has the usual islands with hilly terrain and rocky plains. Its coasts are alive with reeds. Some islands have mountains with ancient ruins. The surrounding topography of the lake varies from cropland to hilly terrain. The fauna consists of endemic species such as the Titicaca water frog and the Titicaca Grebe. Shellfish and snails occupy the shallow waters of the lake. Endemic freshwater shrimps can be found in the deeper parts ranging in size from tiny to 13 inches. In addition, about 90% of the fish species in the lake are endemic.

1. Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes

Bolivia, Peru, and the EU drew up a master plan between 1991-1993 called, “Master Plan for Flood Prevention and the Usage of Water Resources of the TDPS System.” This project would become the reference for the future development of the system. This plan also includes human development in the Lake Titicaca area. Although two countries are sharing the lake, both had been cooperative with no disputes in the management of the water resources. The threats to the lake are the wastes that come from the populated islands and coastline. Soil erosion and degradation are also issues that need to be addressed. Agricultural overexploitation of cropland affects most highland areas. Mining also brings contaminants to the lower areas.

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