Myanmar’s fragile jewel

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Lake Inle is unique in many ways, but not least for its indigenous fish fauna. Tom Ackrill takes a closer look at the highs and lows of a fabulous body of water.

For a long time, many Asian fish have been underappreciated in the hobby. Too often the spotlight is given to the South American species — the tetras, plecos, the myriad of cichlids, and of course the cute and humble Corydoras. But Asia should never be overlooked as an aquarist’s paradise, and Lake Inle is a perfect example of what can be found if you travel the other way around the globe.

Inle, the second largest lake in Myanmar (formerly Burma), is one of the most unique biotopes in the world. With an area of almost 45 square miles, yet with an average depth as shallow as 6-7 feet, it wouldn’t be entirely wrong to view this amazing place as a giant puddle; especially when compared with the likes of Lake Tanganiyka in Africa. But that doesn’t mean that Inle is short of biodiversity.

The lake children

With its unique position nestled high in the Shan Mountains, the lake is a home to around 70-80,000 people, who refer to themselves as the ‘Intha’ — the word in translates approximately to ‘children of the lake’. Their way of life is considered among the most unique in the world, and pictures of their houses — mounted on stilts due to the ever-present water beneath them — as well as floating gardens, shops, craft areas, and fishing activities, all bring a fresh breath of cultural vibrancy.

For the most part, the Intha exist with only minimal impact by tourism, although like all societies who find themselves regularly visited by outsiders, they have adapted to find ways to cater to tourists, and a significant weaving industry has developed, alongside tours of the lake and other nature-based activities. Importantly, they show how they live harmoniously with their surroundings.

There has been no damming of the lake, no diversion of water to make space for crops, no attempt to drain water away to make it easier to place foundations for homes. Instead, they have adapted their lifestyles to best suit the environment in which they live, although they are not entirely immune to the lure of modern methods and practices. With such awe inspiring and humbling beauty nestled in amongst the mountains, it should come as no surprise that Inle has a strong religious presence; who could blame anyone for finding serenity or divinity here? The great pagoda of Phaung Daw Oo is the most religious site currently on the lake, but there’s evidence all along the shoreline of older structures that once served a similar purpose.

Life underwater

In amongst all of this live some of the most charming fish species in the entirety of the hobby. The water chemistry of Lake Inle is somewhat unusual in that it is rather hard (as high as 200mg CaCO3/L) on account of the Shan Hills (a mountain range overlooking the lake, predominantly made up of limestone). The water is also alkaline, and a pH of around 7.6-8.0 is considered quite typical. On the back of this, the repeated dry and a wet seasons directly impact the concentrations of dissolved mineral levels in the lake. There are fluctuations in GH and KH that have led to the evolution of fish species that are able to cope with a range of different conditions.

The lake offers up a small yet distinct selection of fish species that are increasingly being found in the hobby. Notably, many of these appeal to those aquarists with an interest in smaller, or nano species.

Read the rest of the feature in the August issue, on sale from July 21, 2022, available to read instantly on our digital edition HERE  or purchase the print edition HERE.


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