Nicaragua’s crater lakes could become the new aquatic Galapagos of the continent because they are the sanctuary of unique fish.  Because of this characteristic, UNESCO could include them on its World Cultural and Natural Heritage list, according to American Scientist, Dr. Kenneth McKaye, who has been studying these fish for 50 years.

“Nicaragua has a virtual aquatic Galapagos because there are many different species of fish in its volcanic lakes, far more that the number of birds there are in The Galapagos. All you have to do is go underwater to see them.  Each one of the crater lakes has species that are exclusive to them”, says McKaye, who has studied fish in Nicaragua since 1970.

Kenneth McKaye is attempting for the third time to interest the Nicaraguan authorities in the subject and for the lakes of volcanic origin to be included on the World Heritage list. “I have visited all of the countries in the areas, and all of them have crater lakes; the difference is that the other countries have introduced n o n – n a t i v e species into the lakes, which have exterminated the native species.  Only in Nicaragua have the native species been maintained in their natural habitat. However, aquatic ecosystems of volcanic origin are considered fragile and susceptible to the effects of pollution and sedimentation, which means that they require protection”, added the scientist.

According to McKaye, who in the 80s worked to get Lake Malawi (Africa) declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in order to protect its diversity, considers that the crater lakes are an extraordinary natural phenomenon and of exceptional value as they are home to unique species.  This is the reason for having them incorporated into the World Heritage list so that the greater recognition will promote tourism and well as the country in general. “The importance of this subject is twofold because it will require the creation of new tourism products”, says the researcher.

From his experience in Malawi, McKaye says that both the President of the country and the National Assembly worked together to get Lake Malawi National Park declared a World Heritage site in 1984. It was the first park in the world to protect deep water marine life. “Malawi was managing its natural resources very badly; we started by protecting the trees, or it would have become a desert, and we did not allow them to bring in foreign species. Now there is interest in protecting it. Millions of tourists have visited, as well as scientists and important television networks such as National Geographic”, adds the researcher.


As a scientist, McKaye has written to UNESCO with a proposal to have Nicaragua’s crater lakes declared World Heritage sites.  He also says that he has sent the same document to MARENA but has not received an answer.

Dr McKaye recently met with Lic Lucy Valenti, President of CANATUR, and Antonio Armas, President of the Association of Tour Operators, who enthusiastically embraced the initiative of working to have the crater lakes declared World Heritage sites and to develop, in conjunction with the scientist, a unique and innovative product for which Nicaragua would become known worldwide as a destination where one can scuba dive in volcanoes, as crater lakes are considered volcanoes.

Fabio Buitrago, marine biologist and certified diver, considers that two things are necessary for this proposal to be work: government support, wherein the government is responsible for promoting the country, accompanied by a serious effort for cleaning up and ordering tourism. “It is not possible for lakes like Xiloá to be polluted by sewage and garbage from neighboring settlements, or like Lake Apoyo whose water level drops annually and is contaminated. Every time I dive in Apoyo, I see enormous amounts of garbage being dumped through the drainage system. This has led to a decrease in some species like the rainbow bass and an increase in others such as the guabin.  Another problem is the proliferation of algae as a direct consequence of the increase in trash.  An overabundance of algae means the presence ecosystem and will end up killing species which are native to the lake.”

Nicaraguan scientist and researcher, Jaime Incer Barquero, says that this initiative will not progress until the government decides to support it. “It would not be the first time that this has been attempted, but we have not had any results. Nobody wants to invest in protected areas, only in the private ones.  Anyone can invade the others and steal from them.”

Incer Barquero adds that “tourists do not like to visit places where there is deforestation or pollution. Unfortunately, natural resources are viewed as nuisances here, and there is an excessive greed for taking advantage of them before someone else comes along and does so. They do not view natural resources as a heritage that can generate benefits.  Until there exists an understanding that natural resources generate tangible benefits, there will be no efforts made to conserve them.”

In the 80s, McKaye headed the University of Maryland’s International Program, with the University of Malawi, and obtained funding for a program with UCA despite the economic blockade.  He worked closely with the office of the vice president, Sergio Ramirez, to have the lakes protected.


McKaye has discovered many things in our volcanic lakes that are unknown to the world.  For example, there are at least nine new unique species in each crater lake.  “There are many interesting things in the crater lakes with mushroom-shaped rock formations and walls that resemble perpendicular buildings where the bottom is not visible.   Huge rocks.  I saw a species called ‘nicaragüense’ (the scientific name given to it by a colleague), which I call ‘nica’; these fish protect the rainbow bass, which in turn eat the natural enemies of the nicas.  I saw fish that kidnap the babies of other fish and look after them as though they are their own since by looking after them, they offer their predators variety and increase the probability that their own offspring will survive.  There is also another interesting species that only exists here and that we called “midas”.

Crater lakes Nicaragua

  1. Cosigüina Cosigüina is an extinct volcano in western Nicaragua, also called Lacoalguina at one time, and is located on the Cosigüina peninsula in the municipality of El Viejo, Chinandega. The northern boundary of Cosigüina Volcano is the Gulf of Fonseca. Inside the volcano is a 1.5 km² crater lake.
  2. Tigre Today this lake is known as “Asososca” (not to be confused with Asososca Lake located in Managua). The Spaniards’ Nahua guides called it Ticuancinabie (Ticuan or Tecuan = Tigre and cinabie = lake) or ticuanchinamilt, “Tiger Lake”. This is the name that Spanish chronicler Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, who visited the site in 1527, knew it by. Another name given to it by the Nahua was “Asososca” which means “water mirror”; this is the name most commonly used today.
  3. Asososca Asososca Lake is a crater lake located west of the city of Managua, which is the capital of Nicaragua, 2.2 km from Lake Managua or Xolotlán. Its coordinates are 12 ° 8’13 ” North and 86 ° 18’55” West. It has been declared a “Municipal Green Park” by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA) under the administration of the municipality.
  4. Tiscapa The Tiscapa Lake Nature Reserve is located in the southeastern part of the city of Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, just 2 kilometers from the shore of Lake Managua or Xolotlán. It includes Tiscapa Hill and Tiscapa Lake , the latter formed by a volcano more than 10,000 years ago.
  5. Nejapa Nejapa Lake is of volcanic origin and is located to the west, in the highest part of the city of Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. It occupies an oval depression 160 meters deep, formed by three land collapses at the foot of Motastepe Hill (“pinecone hill “), which is the bottom of the now extinct volcano of the same name, like its neighbors Tiscapa and Asososca1. Its geographical coordinates are 12 ° 10 ’99 North and 86 ° 31′ 64 West, to 51.15 msnm2.
  6. Apoyeque-Xiloá The Chiltepe Peninsula Nature Reserve is a protected area, which is important for the wildlife in the Cuapes Hills on the Chiltepe peninsula above 200 meters as well as Apoyeque and Xiloá lakes.
  7. Apoyo The Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is located between the departments of Masaya and Granada in Nicaragua. It was declared a nature reserve in 1991 by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA). It is a body of water of volcanic origin.
  8. Masaya Laguna Masaya. Located at the foot of the Masaya Volcano. The continuous streams of lava have narrowed its banks on the west side. Its structure is essentially volcanic with high vertical cliffs of smooth rocks and heights of up to l00 meters on the east side.
  9. Tisma For nature lovers, especially birds, Tisma Lake is a paradise. The site has enormous potential for ecotourism, which is just beginning to be exploited. It is driven by some activities promoted annually by the municipality, mainly the Wetlands Fair.
  10. Maderas Maderas Volcano is a dormant volcano located on the island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca. Near the top there is a 400m x 150m cold water lake, which is characterized by swampy surroundings caused by the high content of moisture in its soil and which, together San Ramon Waterfall, is one of the biggest attractions of the volcano.

“The ocean and the crater lakes are resources that have not been exploited and where many activities and sports could take place, which would bring economic abundance.  Diving is not only submerging yourself in the water but also the activating services such as accommodations, boat rentals, guides, restaurants, etc”.

Among the sports and activities referred to by Buitrago are paddleboarding and snorkelling.  “What tourist wouldn’t want to swim and take pictures with turtles, whales or dolphins?  There is a potential for tourism here for five months out of the year, and we do not exploit it.  Moreover, you can observe the turtles arriving on the beaches and nesting. In Costa Rica, tourists pay 100 dollars to swim with stingrays, and here we also have them as well as the capacity to look after 20 tourists a day and dive for 45 minutes to an hour every day”.

Another activity suggested by the diver is windsurfing, which consists of a long surf board with a parachute being pulled by the wind.  It is done in Costa Rica. There is also a possibility of volunteering to install artificial reefs, monitor fish, as well as observe and count birds.  Also the fish can be observed and counted using a simple methodology to document them in the area where you are diving and where you will also see sponges, coral, sharks and much more.

“It is possible to dive year round in the Caribbean.  There are sponges, coral, and stingrays.  Or you can walk the paths and observe birds and other animals.  It is the same case in the ocean; you can see all types of species which are part of the biodiversity of the area.  Nicaragua has incredible potential”, says Buitrago.

  • Edition 7