Lake Victoria is one of the African Great Lakes.
With a surface area of 68,800 square kilometers (26,600 square miles), Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake by area and the largest tropical lake in the world.
It is about the size of Ireland.
Being relatively shallow for its size, with a maximum depth of 84 meters (276 feet) and a mean depth of 40 meters (131 feet), Lake Victoria ranks as the seventh largest freshwater lake by volume, containing 2,750 cubic kilometers (2.2 million acre-feet) of water.
Its greatest length from north to south is 337 kilometers (210 miles), its greatest breadth 240 kilometers (150 miles).
The lake’s surface is 1,134 meters (3,720 feet) above sea level.
The lake has a shoreline of 3,440 kilometers (2138 miles), and has more than 3,000 islands, many of which are inhabited.
These include the Ssese Islands in Uganda, a large group of islands in the northwest of the Lake that are becoming a popular destination for tourists.
Ukerewe is the largest island in Lake Victoria and the largest inland island in Africa, with an area of
approximately 530 square kilometers.
Many archipelagos are contained within the lake, as are numerous reefs, often just below the surface of the clear waters.
The shores of the lake are very varied. Steep rocks up to 90 meters (300 feet) high back the southwestern coast, while the western shore is marked by swamps, papyrus, which make way for the delta of the Kagera River. Lake Victoria’s northern coast is flat.
Geologically, Lake Victoria is relatively young – about 400,000 years old.
Lake Victoria receives 80% of its water from direct rainfall while the other 20% comes from small rivers flowing into the lake.
It is the source of the longest branch of the Nile River, the White Nile. It is the only outflow from Lake Victoria.
The lake’s basin area covers 184,000 square kilometers (71,000 square miles).
The lake and its basin are endowed with abundant natural resources, which support the livelihoods of the 33 million inhabitants found in the basin within the three East African countries. These resources are: fisheries, water and biodiversity.
Before 1954, Lake Victoria’s ecology was characterised by enormous biodiversity. It was inhabited by over 500 species of fish.
The introduction of exotic fish species, especially the Nile perch, has altered the freshwater ecosystem of the lake and driven several hundred species of native cichlids to near or total extinction.
The colorful culture of the Luo tribe is very much in evidence around Lake Victoria. Most of the shoreline villages are Luo, where friendly and colorfully dressed tribespeople maintain a lively fishmonger industry.
The Lake Victoria basin while generally rural has many major centers of population. Its shores in particular are dotted with the key cities and towns, including Kisumu [pic. below], Kisii, and Homa Bay in Kenya; Kampala, Jinja and Entebbe in Uganda; and Bukoba, Mwanza and Musoma in Tanzania.
Since the 1900s, Lake Victoria ferries have been an important means of transport between Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. The main ports on the lake are Kisumu, Mwanza, Bukoba, Entebbe, Port Bell and Jinja.
Kiira and Nalubaale (Owen Falls) dams have been built on the Victoria Nile and the lake’s waters are used in the production of hydroelectricity.
The first recorded information about Lake Victoria comes from Arab traders plying the inland routes in search of gold, ivory, other precious commodities, and slaves. An excellent map, known as the Muhammad al-Idrisi map from the calligrapher who developed it and dated from the 1160s, clearly depicts an accurate representation of Lake Victoria, and attributes it as the source of the Nile.
The search by Europeans for the source of the Nile led to the sighting of the lake by the British explorer John Hanning Speke in 1858. Formerly known to the Arabs as Ukerewe, the lake was named by Speke in honour of Queen Victoria of England.
Geological cores taken from its bottom show Lake Victoria has dried up completely at least three times since it formed. The last time it dried out 17,300 years ago, and it refilled beginning about 14,700 years ago.