Lake Maracaibo: an announced environmental disaster.

With a surface of 13,210 kmis the largest lake of Venezuela and South America. It is connected to the Gulf of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea by Tablazo Strait and fed by several rivers, the largest called Catatumbo. 

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An almost cloud free OLCI Sentinel-3 image acquired in March over the lake. Due to the location very close to the Equator, the area is often covered by clouds.

Unfortunately Lake Maracaibo is also one the most polluted lake of the world due to massive oil extraction which started systematically early twenties. Its surface is indeed largely covered by hundreds of oil wells and traversed by more than 25,000 km of pipelines.

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Hundreds of Oil Wells on the lake are producing 700,000 barrels (159 litres each) of crude per day (photo Robert Ma).

More than 100 companies, mostly related to the government’s oil industry, are allowed to dump industrial waste into the lake. In addition a large part of the oil wells pipelines are antiquated and suffer from lack of regular maintenance systematically leaking dozens of oil barrels. Also five thousand litres of sewage per second are dumped into it from the two million residences that live in the surroundings of the lake. The result, after a century of degradation, is a compromised ecosystem where fishery is by now almost impossible.

The disaster is clearly visible from the Copernicus Sentinels images that can only watch the great lake dying.

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A Sentinel-1 recent image showing the huge oil slicks (black areas) close to the east shore where a big refinery is settled. Also the wells are visible as brighter spots. Below the same area captured by Sentinel-2 and a tilted view from Sentinel-1

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Another symptom of the lake degradation are the frequent duckweed (Lemna) infestations which can be removed only mechanically. Last infestation is dated 2010. Images below show either the Lemna outbreak either one the recent phytoplankton blooms.

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