Commentary | May 4, 2021 | By Sumeep Bath, Editorial and Communications Manager

How Has COVID Affected Those Working on The Great Lakes?

It should come as no surprise that the limited movement necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on freshwater scientists around the world.

From established limnologists to burgeoning scientists, everyone has felt the impact of lockdowns and travel restrictions.

The effect has certainly been felt by those who work to protect the Laurentian Great Lakes and the African Great Lakes.

We sat down with researchers from two continents to discover how exactly their work on the Great Lakes has been affected, and their hopes for the future.

Joyce Ikwaput Nyeko, Acting Director of Fisheries Resources Management for Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries of the Government of Uganda

“There has been a massive impact. Here in Uganda, like most countries, we went into lockdown. Luckily, I was issued a sticker to permit me, deemed an essential worker, to maintain a skeletal presence at the office. People working in the field, however, were limited in their movement to minimize the chance to transferring the disease. Trade has also been greatly affected from Uganda. First up, fishermen have had limited access to lakes which limits their production. Then, cargo planes and other modes of transportation out of the country have been reduced, limiting how much can be exported from the country. The result of this? Many lost jobs and an impact on the economy and therefore government revenue. Of course, we can recover, but it all depends on when a solution is found, and how much time we can make up.”

Joyce Ikwaput Nyeko is a member of the ACARE Board of Directors

Ed Verhamme, Project Engineer, LimnoTech

“Over the last 12 months COVID has really impacted the robustness of our field sampling efforts. The pandemic added a whole new layer of logistical management that brings health and safety of our sampling crews to the front of the priority list. Although we’ve been generally able to travel when and wherever we need, its required a lot of rethinking of how many people it takes to do a task and how to move about safely to and from field sites. One positive aspect of the pandemic is the priority that water treatment plants have placed on environmental sensors and data collection programs.”

Cyprian Katongo, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Zambia, Great East Road Campus-ZAMBIA

COVID 19 has negatively affected my joint research work on Lake Tanganyika because my international collaborators from the European and American universities have not been able to travel to Zambia in the last twelve months. Therefore, we have carried out very little joint field work on the lake. Fortunately, we have been able to co-publish one article with colleagues from the University of Graz, Austria from our previous work. With the ongoing COVID vaccination, I hope international travel will come back to normal and we can continue our collaborative research on Lake Tanganyika.

Cyndy Desjardins, Food Web Biologist, IISD Experimental Lakes Area

“Like pretty much everyone else in the world, COVID has had quite a large impact on the way I work. But, at IISD Experimental Lakes Area, we weren’t weren’t going to let COVID obliterate a data set we’ve maintained for more than 50 years! We were very lucky to be able to maintain some field work, I know a lot of research groups were not able to do any! For my part, I’ve been working for home since last March, we has some great benefits (no long commute to the office, saving money on transit passes and eating lunches out), but also some pretty big drawbacks (I miss seeing my co-workers every day!). Although it’s been quite a rocky year for so many of us, I am extremely grateful for the professional and personal resilience of the group of people I work with, that has helped me make it though such a tough year.”

Cyndy works at the world’s freshwater laboratory as a food web biologist.

Winnie Nkalubo, Director of Research, National Fisheries Resources Research Institute NaFIRRI

The Covid-19 pandemic put on hold several research activities on Lake Victoria given the restrictions on movements, a five-months lock down, curfew, social distancing, all that interrupted with processes necessary for generating research outputs. In response, adjustments were made to respond to the “new normal” through phone calls to various fish value chain actors and virtual meetings to assess the impacts of Covid-19 on socio-economic activities in the lake. A key lesson learnt from this crisis that will inform future research is the need to embrace new technologies to cope with such calamities.