Cichlids aplenty

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Written on Wednesday 9 October

Amongst the sites below the surface of Lake Malawi were a car, tree, row boat a canoe – not the usual fare you set eyes on during a dive.

There were also plenty of fish as Lake Malawi is home to 850 to 1,000 species of freshwater fish, a greater number than are found in Europe and South America combined. The vast majority belong to the Cichlid group, one of the few types of fish who care for their offspring. All but one of Malawi’s Cichlids are mouth-brooders, meaning the eggs and young are held in the mothers mouth until they are large enough to fend for themselves.

I am no fish expert and I couldn’t identify a cichlid but I am pretty sure the majority of the fish I saw beneath the lake would belong to this group. They were small(ish), some more brightly coloured than others and abundant.

The lakescape (is that even a word?) was very different to what you see beneath the sea. The bottom was made up of huge boulders and smaller rocks or sand. Everything was sand coloured and most of the sediment appeared to be fish shit! The fish didn’t gather around certain areas as they do with coral but instead were spread out. You would find groups of them feeding off the algae on the edge of a rock, or many hiding in a crevice in a boulder.

In the sand were craters of varying sizes that the fish make to attract a mate, the bigger the crater the more attractive the male.

Amongst the other sites was a huge catfish. These are usually only seen at night but this one was was brazenly swimming around in broad daylight. I also spotted a few crabs, but the most intriguing siting was the sunken car.

It was incredibly eerie to come across a submerged vehicle resting in the sand. I wondered how it got there and what might have happened to the driver or the boat carrying the car. Disappointingly I discovered that the previous owner of the dive centre floated it out there and sank it as an attraction for divers.

The submerged tree was also very spooky, it loomed menacingly in the water too big to be seen in its entirety because of the water visibility.

We dived with the centre inside Kande Beach campsite called Aquanuts Dive School. Owner Justin has been at the centre for three years and when not diving with customers uses his skills to do research in to the lake and its fish life. He also helps educate the local community, 80 per cent of which can’t swim, about the lake and why it is important to protect the environment.

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