Africa’s Nile River basin has long been a home to some of the world’s flourishing freshwater ecosystems, including five of the Great Lakes, which are home to more than 2,500 fish species. Along with their contributions to biodiversity, fish also represent a significant percentage of countries’ GDP through exports to markets in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

But in recent years, as populations have grown, fishing has reached unsustainable levels. Rampant illegal fishing has depleted fish populations, propelled by poverty, poor management systems and corrupt officials. Invasive species like the Nile perch and tilapia, despite their export earnings, have caused the mass extinction of hundreds of indigenous fish. Transboundary pollution of waterways by heavy metals, plastics, and sewage threaten the health of aquatic ecosystems. Climate change poses a new and complex layer to the problem, as rising temperatures and changes in rainfall impact fish species’ survival and fishers’ access to markets. And all of these issues are driving cross-border conflict around transboundary lakes and rivers in East Africa, according to an analysis of data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Can these transboundary fisheries recover? Through local investigative reporting, data and science interrogation, and cross-border multimedia production, this collaborative project will investigate the complex and interlinked drivers of fish decline in the Nile basin, with a focus on various illegal fishing activities and their roles in driving conflict.

It will also shed light on the working initiatives that are combating illegal fishing, such as by managing transboundary ecosystems, replenishing fish populations, providing employment to fishing communities, and helping fishing supply chains adapt to the changing climate.

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