The largest lake in the country, Tota is a tropical high elevation lake nestled on the eastern ridge of the Colombian Andes. With a surface of 5,500 hectares, it provides freshwater to 350,000 people that live in its basin and downstream areas. Around 110 bird species, including endemic and threatened, both resident and migratory, call Tota Lake home.
Agricultural landscapes and remnants of montane forest surround the lake, and also the high-mountain páramos with their unique and endangered plants and wildlife. To address the challenges posed by climate change, it is crucial to improve governance, implement sustainable agricultural practices, and raise public awareness about the need to preserve this precious lake.
The wetlands and montane forests of Tota Lake and its surrounding ecosystems are home to a diverse range of wildlife. 110 species of birds have been registered, including endemic, threatened and migratory species – a diversity that has granted its recognition as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area. Populations of endemic, threatened and iconic wetland species inhabit the sedge patches, such as the Apolinar’s wren (Cistothorus apolinari) or the Bogotá Rail (Rallus semiplumbeus).
The surrounding páramo, high-altitude ecosystems such as the Tota-Bijagual-Mamapacha complex (151,247 ha) or the Siscunsí-Ocetá protected area (49,794 ha), serve as a water source for the ecosystems downslope by capturing moisture from mist and precipitation. Páramo vegetation features many endemic species, like the charismatic frailejones (Espeletia spp.).
Endangered by habitat loss and degradation.
Emblematic genus of páramo plants with many narrow endemics.
Greasefish / Pez Graso
Endemic, it's the only freshwater fish considered extinct in Colombia.
Communities in the Tota basin rely on agriculture and livestock depending on the topography, climatic and soil conditions present in each region. Around the lake, 80% of the bunching onions of Colombia are produced, and rainbow trout aquaculture and cattle ranching also play a role in the livelihoods of the communities.
The beauty of Tota Lake also has a high potential for tourism, an economic activity that could generate more income for the communities. The resources of Tota have been exploited since colonial times, but lately, the local communities are pushing for another vision – the Lake as a living being, with its own legal rights.
Traditional agriculture and livestock practices often involve overuse of fertilizers and agrochemicals, which have a negative impact on the water and soil quality. For example, monoculture farming of bunching onions along the lake shore and in the surrounding páramo, as well as unsustainable trout farming practices, contribute to water degradation and sedimentation.
The lack of effective governance and limited knowledge about wetlands and their significance for both people and wildlife, along with difficulties to implement management instruments, have led to poor and unsustainable practices. Besides that, the impacts of climate change are not being taken into account.
With the Living Lakes Biodiversity and Climate Project, Fundación Humedales will work with all the interested stakeholders to improve governance for the management of the basin of Fúquene and Tota lakes. The goal is to strengthen resilience and adaptation to the climate change scenarios that have been predicted for the area, and also to conserve and restore the biodiversity of the diverse ecosystems associated with these lakes.
Fundacion Humedales will support local women’s organizations that are working to grow traditional and local crop varieties specially selected due to their resilience to future climatic scenarios, helping them establish commercial routes for the goods they produce.
To address the impacts of onion agriculture and cattle farming on biodiversity and water, good agricultural practices will be designed and promoted.
Lastly, to get local communities involved in the conservation of the lake, mobile applications for community-based environmental monitoring are being developed within the project – that way, local people will be able to monitor the overall environmental condition of the lake and key biodiversity elements, such as the presence of invasive species.