Lake Malawi harbours incredible cichlid diversity

Apr 14, 2010 |   |   | 
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Location: Chintheche Inn, Lake Malawi, Malawi
Date: March 2010
Observer: Dana Allen
Photographer: Dana Allen

Lake Malawi, the third largest in Africa and one of the Great Lakes in East Africa's Rift Valley system, is home to incredible fish diversity within its placid depths. These languid tropical waters harbour more endemic fish species than any other lake in the world.

The most well known are probably the colourful cichlids, a large and diverse family. Numerous new species are discovered annually and many have still to be described - mostly due to their rapid evolution into a large number of closely related yet totally distinct species. This species radiation is at its peak within the large lakes of Africa, notably Tanganyika, Victoria and Malawi and - like Darwin's finches in the Galapago islands - has been used as an evolutionary yardstick and illustration. Lake Malawi contains more than 400 different cichlids, the majority of which have distributions restricted solely to this picturesque water body.

The central lakeshore region, where Chintheche Inn is scenically located, provides convenient access to observing these 'underwater jewels'. A nearby offshore island is the perfect locale to undertake a leisurely morning or afternoon snorkelling or diving activity in the clear, warm waters. The entire experience is akin to swimming in your own tropical aquarium surrounded by these fascinating fish, which the locals call mbuna.

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