In the Northeastern region of Uganda lies a large, remote, seldom visited lake: Lake Opeta. The lake was designated a national conservation area in 2006 due to its numerous bird species— including the globally endangered shoebill (balaeniceps rex).
Lilly pads stretch endlessly across the calm waters to the horizon. Rare birds soar past. The setting is extremely tranquil. A large crash of a tree branch hitting the water breaks the peace— the fishermen have opened business for the day.
The lake is not only home to rare wildlife, but also to a local tribe of Teso people. Peter Epeu has come into view equipped with nets and long ‘beating’ sticks. They fish the waters of the lake and live in basic grass huts on swampy floating islands. Living the same simple lives of their forefather’s, they have everything they need to survive. The fish are in high demand with the neighboring communities who often come to the lake shore to buy fish and trade items which cannot be grown on the islands such as flour and maize.
I am a photographer and was employed as a consultant and researcher to make preparations for introducing ecotourism to Lake Opeta. The idea is that the revenue generated from the visitors can be put back into conservation and benefit the lake, surrounding areas and their inhabitants.
The benefits are easy to see, but what would be the impact? The fishermen rely on nothing from the outside world, they don’t use power, they don’t have mobile phones and they don’t have modern fishing equipment. They have lived, fished and traded this way comfortably for generations
Getting to the Lake involves driving down dusty tracks, past previous insurgent’s camps (from the period of unrest and fighting with the Karamojong Tribes) – a 4 x4 is a necessity. In dry season the water is another 10 minute walk across the huge flood plains.
We then met Simon Oese and some of his fellow fishermen on the shore, jumped into one of their small handmade boats and headed out. We were reassured by them that there are no crocodiles or hippos on this side of the lake!