When we first started researching the losses of the endemic haplochromine cichlids and other fisheries issues in the late 2000s, it became rapidly apparent that we would have to build the core geophysical datasets for each of the East African lakes of interest for use in our models. Lake Victoria had limited survey data from a century earlier, and Lakes Albert, Edward, and George had a handful of survey points from around the same period. The thought of accurately mapping the coastline and shoreline of around 75,000 km2 of inland water bodies across four countries was daunting. It could only be achieved by teamwork, patience, breaking the project into smaller pieces, and no small amount of funding.
The East African Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization Hydro-acoustics Regional Working Group took on the mammoth task of collecting the soundings for Lake Victoria over four years, starting in 2016 and ending in 2020, using the RV Lake Victoria Explorer out of Mwanza, Tanzania. In conjunction with experts from NaFIRRI in Uganda, the US-led Emerald Ocean Engineering LLC consortium tackled Lakes Albert, Edward, and George in 2020, using the RV Nkejje out of Jinja, Uganda. The combined teams collected over 18 million depth soundings and compiled high-resolution imagery to map almost 4,000 km of lake shoreline. By the end of 2020, the bathymetric and shoreline surveys were complete. During this period, we were fortunate to receive funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Multinational Lakes Edward & Albert Integrated Fisheries & Water Resources Management Project (LEAF II), the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), and in-kind assistance from the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute of Uganda (NaFIRRI), Emerland Ocean Engineering LLC (EOE), and Gulf Coast GIS LLC (GCGIS LLC).
We now make these data available to researchers and policy makers to make allocation decisions regarding the freshwater resources within Africa, manage food resources on which many tens of millions of people rely, and help preserve the region's endemic biodiversity. Finally, as these data are tied to globally consistent geodetic models, they can be used in future global and regional climate change models.