Water hyacinths (Eichornia crassipes) and their presence in Shire River, Malawi : Problems caused by them and ways of utilise them elsewhere

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för geovetenskaper

Abstract: Malawi is one of many countries throughout the world struggling with massive amounts of water hyacinths (Eichornia crassipes) in the country’s fresh water resources.  In nutrient-rich ecosystems where the aquatic weed has no natural enemies it will reproduce very rapidly with the consequence that lakes become overgrown, water flow in rivers is reduced, and other water organisms becomes excluded. At the same time, the plants form a good breeding place for species carrying tropical diseases for example Malaria and Bilharzia. Water hyacinths are usually more of a problem for poorer countries since there are often great economic losses caused by the weed and to control their relative abundance is costly. In Malawi, 99 % of the produced electricity is based on water resources, mainly through hydropower turbines in the main river, Shire River. Water hyacinths, aggregated as islands, floating along the river and clogging the turbines cause repeated electricity black-outs and approximately 140 megawatt power is lost every day. To counter the weed interference with the electricity supply, there are great amounts of water hyacinths harvested every day and dumped along the road, with no further disposal plan. In this report, soil from one local dumping area is analysed to determine if such places are leaching nutrients or metals to the surrounding environment.  Water hyacinths contain naturally high values of nutrients and farmers use these harvested plants as a green manure to improve soil properties on agricultural land. This paper aims to examine levels of metal in water hyacinths used as green manure. This is of interest since water hyacinths have the ability to effectively absorb substances from the water body which could pose a risk for potentially toxic elements (PTEs) to accumulate in the agricultural soil and subsequently in crops. Sampling and analyses were carried out with standard methods. Metal and nutrient levels in the analysed samples were obtained through detection with atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS), ion chromatography (IC) and UV/VIS spectrophotometry at the Department of Chemistry of Chancellor College in Zomba, Malawi. None of the investigated metal ions (Cr, Pb, Cd) were found in the analysed water hyacinths and since soil sampling was done during the dry season this thesis cannot determine if the dumping areas are leaching nutrients. Relatively high amounts of total phosphorus were found in the plants. Overall, the conclusion is that there is no risk of using water hyacinths harvested in Shire River as a green manure on agricultural land. 

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