A different view on the Royal Lake – uncovering the ecosystem services of the Kandawgyi Lake area

Early Sunday morning, 8.30am – the first persons are arriving. We are gathering for the very first study tour of 2019: a walking tour exploring the surroundings of Kandawgyi Lake.

A group of 25 participants of different backgrounds joined us to learn more about the role and the ecosystem of the lake. People from environmental organisations, students from water studies and environmental studies and interested individuals, each joining the tour for different reasons:

"It is good to have a better understanding of the inlets – it is not easy to know how it works as an outsider"

participant Kandawgyi Lake tour

"I am interested to learn more about the water collection in the lake, the inlets", "I would like to meet likeminded people" or "it is a nice way to spend the Sunday morning, learning something new". Most of the participants have walked around before, but have signed up to get learn more about the specific functions of the lake. Guided by Dr Piet Filet, water management and flooding expert from Brisbane, the group walked along the north eastern side of the lake.

Kandawgyi Lake lies in the center of Yangon, built by the British in the 1880s to serve as a water reservoir. Today that role has evolved and now the lake serves a major recreational purpose, with several restaurants, leisure areas and shops located on the water front. In addition, Kandawgyi serves as a large retention basin to control flood risk.

During the tour, the group walked together and along the way, we explored the different functions that the 'great royal lake' has. We specifically looked at what happens around the lake, and how these activities affect the lake. 

Kandawgyi Lake its Ecosystem services

In order to structure the tour and guide the discussions among participants, Piet introduced a framework that revolves around the concept of the benefits that the lake provides. This framework was already touched upon in May last year, when Piet moderated a CoP session at the Yangon City Development Committee. During that session, participants agreed that Kandawgyi Lake is a, non-consumptive, cultural water use- and supporting water use ecosystem.

The framework lists the different benefits that can be derived from the presence of the lake:

  1. Primary services such as water supply
  2. Ecological services for aquatic life. The lake and surrounding areas are home to many plants, trees, insects and a are habitat for a range of birds and water-edge animals.
  3. Recreational benefits
  4. Other functional benefits:
    • The large water area of lake has a cooling function
    • Flood retention
    • In a future mature system it can also provide water quality treatment

Enjoying the scenery, uncovering hidden gardens

For this tour we explored the North Eastern part of the lake, starting from the white elephants in the corner of Nat Mauk Street and Bahan Road. The white elephants represent a royal blessing and give an idea of the important role that luck and 'blessing' play for the visitors of the lake. Joining us on the tour was someone who shared her view that the lake was all about luck - going there for a business lunch on a romantic date - "this lake brings luck".

Currently there is a large difference between the more vibrant places around the lake, and the more hidden spots, which are quieter. One of those hidden spots the tour passed by is the old botanical garden, a place that most of the participants had not visited before, nor did they know about its existence.

Passing through the gardens it is clear that once this was a lush place. Although it is still maintained, the area is not visited frequently and is a quiet hideaway from the busy and bustling area where the plant shops are located. After seeing the shop owners water their plants, we wondered whether the presence of the plant nurseries in the park would affect the water quality of the lake as fertilizers might spill into the water area.

Pressures on the lake

One of the biggest topics during the tour was the water quality of the lake. Clearly visible is that the lake these days has an almost bright green colour. Piet explained that algae growth is the reason behind this. As a man-made lake, the depth of Kandawgyi Lake only is about 4ft. The low water deepness makes it easy for the algae to grow – which in turn affects the levels of air in the lake, harming the aquatic life. The big fountain, that can be seen from around the lake front plays an important role in establish higher levels of oxygen in the water. In addition, the maintenance of the lake involves regular removal of the beautiful water lilies. Management of the lilies is relevant for the water quality of the lakes, as the lilies can cover the light penetration which again affects the liveability of the water.

While viewing the inlet from Bahan area, several participants mentioned that they were surprised with the amount of rubbish that was visible in the water. The question was raised whether there is enough awareness about the inlets. The rubbish floating here has already entered the system earlier on, how does it get in the water and can this be prevented earlier in the system?

Luckily, close to the Bahan inlet a conveyor belt is installed which filters the water coming from the inlets of plastic and other rubbish before the water flows into the lake. Currently it appears as if there is insufficient management of the rubbish catchments. This led to an interesting discussion regarding future opportunities for the lake.

New developments = new opportunities for the Ecosystem?

The lake is a bustling place, in every corner people are working, relaxing, selling their goods. In the Eastern part of the lake workers currently are very busy constructing Yangon's first Aquarium. With a large outside, lake facing, terrace, many of the Tour its participants think that it will be a game changer for the Kandawgyi Lake area. Piet mentioned that for him the development of the Aquarium shows the development of the lake and the benefits it will have is likely to draw bigger crowds to the lake, stimulating continued development of the lake front area.

The developments create future opportunities for the development of the Kandawgyi Lake ecosystem:

Ecological Benefits

The botanical garden is a hidden gem. With some good maintenance the area can have increased ecological benefits for birds, insects etc, it might even serve an educational function as visitors can learn more about the different kinds of plant and tree species.

Recreational Benefits

The current renovations on the walking paths, will most likely improve the accessibility of the lake. The new Aquarium will draw in crowds, and will create opportunities for new shops, new leisure areas. One of the participants suggested to provide bicycle services around the lake. Cars are still allowed in the lake area, but a bike would be the perfect way to explore the surroundings

Other Functional Benefits

The developments are also likely to lead to more functional benefits. Efficient waste management will ensure that less rubbish ends up in the lake, which improves the water quality of the lake and hence contributes to the cooling function. Less waste, means less clogging of the inlets which in turn will ensure that the lake is more efficient in its function for flood retention. Measures needed are for example the installing of bins along the pathways.

"We met some like-minded people on the tour"


A day at the lake- what do participants feel can be on the agenda for the lake?

After spending the morning around the lake, the group had a small brainstorm session at Signature Restaurant discussing the learnings. Consensus existed on that we should all try to maintain a good environment for the lake – a greater responsibility for all to ensure that the water of Kandawgyi is protected from pollution. 

The group suggested:

  • businesses and community (groups) around the lake to come together to create shared actions
  • there needs to be more awareness on the water quality and water pollution, specifically from water entering the lake through the inlets.

Development of the lake area has potential to create more benefits, not only for the businesses or community on the lakefront but for Yangon city as a whole. Therefore we have a responsibility, together, to care for the lake and ensure a good environment and maintaining of ecosystems.

We look back on an interesting morning, interesting discussions. We will return to the lake very soon: on Sunday 17th of March we will walk round the full lake, taking approximately 3 hours. You are very much welcome to join! Keep an eye on our myanmarwaterportal.com or send us an email if you would like more information.

Find more pictures from the tour here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmzMtoVB

Myanmar Water Journal - February 2019
ေျမေအာက္ေရႏွင့္က်န္းမာေရး၊ (Groundwater & Health) ...


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