Lake Tanganyika is changing, and the fate of millions lie in the balance

Andrew Cohen is university distinguished professor joint professor, Geosciences and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. CNN is showcasing the work of The Conversation, a collaboration between journalists and academics to provide news analysis and commentary. The content is produced solely by The Conversation.

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(CNN)Standing on the steep rocky shores of Lake Tanganyika at sunset, looking out at fishermen heading out for their nightly lamp-boat fishing trips, it's easy to imagine this immense 32,900km2 body of water as serene and unchanging.

Located in the western branch of the great African Rift Valley it's divided among four countries; Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Zambia. It's one of the oldest lakes in the world, probably dating back about 10 million years.
    That expanse of geological time has permitted literally hundreds of unusual species of fish and invertebrates to evolve in isolation - organisms that are unique among the world's lakes. Every day millions of people rely on the lake's riches.
      But despite being a world class reservoir of biodiversity, food and economic activity, the lake is changing rapidly and may be facing a turbulent future.
      Lake Tanganyika was recently declared the "Threatened Lake of 2017" -- adversely affected by human activity in the form of climate change, deforestation, overfishing and hydrocarbon exploitation.

      The threats

      Beginning in the late 1980s scientists studying the lake began to notice significant and concerning changes caused by human activity.