Friday, April 23, 2010

All were up early this morning to finish closing up the labs, safely store our samples for transport, and leave our “home town” of Panajatchel.

The drive to Guatemala City was much smoother than we’d expected, given our experience with traffic on the way to Panajatchel. We arrived at the Universidad Rafael Landivar just in time for our final presentation of the trip. In a nearly fully auditorium, we presented an overview of the trip, our preliminary findings, and recommendations for the future.

Charles MacVean, dean of the College of Environmental Sciences and Agriculture, opened the session by reminding us of the importance of science in making good decisions and stressing that collaborations of this type provide great hope for Lago de Atitlan.

Photo: Dean MacVean opening the session

Charles Goldman (UC Davis) spoke next. He shared the experiences of Lake Tahoe, which shares many of the same challenges as Lago de Atitlan. After spending 30+ years working on the lake, Dr. Goldman understands the importance of making a long term commitment to a watershed. The parallels are intended to provide hope in two areas: 1) we can learn from what has been done at Lake Tahoe, and 2) it has been demonstrated that factors that damage deep lakes can be changed.

Photo: Charles Goldman

Eliska Rejmankova (UC Davis) spoke next (in Spanish!) to share more specifics about what the expedition learned during the two week expedition.

Photo: Eliska Rejmankova

Nancy Giron (Universidad Rafael Landivar) continued this part of the presentation and provided a detailed overview of the expedition’s activities. She described the fast paced schedule, an overview of the types of experiments conducted, and underscored that the testing and monitoring of this lake should continue if we are to fully understand the dynamics of this lake.

Margaret Dix (Universidad del Valle) was next at the podium and also stressed that science-based decisions will be critical for ensuring the long term health of Lago de Atitlan.

Overall, the message of today’s presentation was

· The lake is sick, but it’s an early stage sickness

· Options exist for mitigating water quality damage

· Capacity exists in Guatemala to fix these problems

· The international science community is fully engaged

A question and answer session after the presentations yielded great discussion. Questions like: “How do we know it isn’t the effects of Hurricane Stan (2005), rather than direct sewage disposal, that has deteriorated lake quality?” (answer: long term monitoring is critical for answering questions like these), “Can we kill the cyanobacteria?” (answer: not realistic, let’s just manage the lake so it doesn’t get enough nutrients to bloom), and “Can chemical or mechanical treatments be applied?” (answer: no, the lake’s too deep for chemical or mechanical treatments to be viable options), and “Is the cyanobacteria in this lake toxic?” (answer: we don’t think so, but we’ll need to work with the samples more in a full scale laboratory. Attention also needs to be paid to the microsystis, which deserves additional study.)

Photo: Dr. Komarek (far left) answering cyanobacteria and microsystis questions

After a wonderful reception hosted by the university that allowed for conversations filled with future collaborative ideas, we piled back into our busses and traveled to a beautiful home in Guatemala City, hosted by Amigos del Lago.

More on that tomorrow!