Lake Tana UNESCO Biosphere Reserve



UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are areas that promote solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with sustainable human living. UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are special places for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems. Their status is internationally recognized.
There are more than 700 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in the world, 79 in Africa, and 5 in Ethiopia – Lake Tana was listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2015. UNESCO Biosphere Reserves embrace all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations Agenda 2030.

This multimedia portfolio, featuring 17 clips and 8 experts interviews, aims to generate awareness of the importance of Lake Tana UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for economic reasons, the need for nature conservation and improved environmental management, in order to revert for people living in harmony with nature.
His Excellency, the late Joachim Schmidt, former Ambassador of Germany in Addis Abeba, was especially supportive establishing the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Lake Tana, including this multi-media production. UNESCO is very thankful to him and his family.


Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia. It is also the source of the Blue Nile. It covers an area of over 3.000 km2. In 2015, the Lake Tana region was listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It is of national and international importance.
It t is rich in biodiversity with many endemic plant and bird species. There are endemic cattle breeds. The lake has very large wetlands. It also has cultural and archaeological sites. The lake is of great importance for the economy. It provides water for agriculture, households, and hydroelectric power, as well as for transportation. Lake Tana is a major attraction. Hippopotamus are common on the lake. One can often see the adult and juveniles resting in the waters near the Blue Nile outflow.
However, an increase of the human population has resulted in serious soil erosion, water pollution, the depletion of fish-stock, and the loss of biodiversity, including wetlands. Other challenges include the invasion of water-hyacinths, which do not naturally belong here, and which cause harm to the ecosystem.

Blue Nile Falls

Situated on the upper course of the Blue Nile, about 30 km downstream from Lake Tana is the Blue Nile Falls. It is one of the most dramatic spectacles of the White Nile or Blue Nile. It provides a vision of natural strength and grandeur falling from a height of 45 meters. It is known as “Tis Abay” in Amharic, meaning “great smoke”.

Vultures Rock

The Lake Tana region and Ethiopia in general are of great geological tourism potential. Tourists call this place ‘Vultures Rock’. It is a single hoodoo-type basaltic rock on the northern slopes of Lake Tana. It is an important roost for Rüppel’s Vultures and possibly functions as a nesting place.

The Nile

The Blue Nile has a total length of 1,450 kilometres, of which 800 kilometres are inside Ethiopia. It flows generally south from Lake Tana and then west across Ethiopia and northwest into Sudan.


UN’s role

United Nations role in supporting Ethiopia to achieve the objectives of Agenda 2030 and the SDGs.


The wetlands of Lake Tana play an important role for the ecosystem and the society.


Opportunities for the private sector with developing sustainable tourism and local products.


The Lake Tana Biosphere Reserve is playing an important role to develop and support sustainable tourism.


Papyrus, a wild sedge of the species Cyperus papyrus, grows wild on the banks of Lake Tana. They are used to make small fishing boats called Tankwas. Hundreds of these tankwas crisscross Lake Tana. They have been in use for millennia, as an essential means of transport on water.


Wetlands are the cradles of biological diversity, providing the water and primary productivity upon which ecosystem functioning depends. They are of invaluable importance. Following better knowledge through research, wetland ecosystems need to be better protected, especially from cattle-grazing and urban encroachment.

Green Economy

The Ministry of Water Irrigation and Energy’s wetland restoration pilot projects have experienced success with many families participating. The families practice fish farming and keeping cows and organic farming as alternative sources of income, reducing their former dependence on wetland farming along the banks of Lake Tana.


The Lake Tana UNESCO Biosphere Reserve hosts various geological and geomorphological attractions. Tourists can explore many of them, including volcano craters, hot springs and deep canyons.

Water Hyacinth

Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), is one of the worst alien invasive species. It is a free-floating plant native to South America. About one-third of Lake Tana’s shoreline, almost 130 km, has already been invaded by water hyacinth. It might have to be managed via harvesting it for the production of bio-fuel and bio-fertilizer.

Church Forest

Ethiopia has lost the vast majority of its forests and trees due to large-scale deforestation. Some of the remaining forests of the Lake Tana area have been conserved in Church Forests. The lake area includes 37 islands and many peninsulas. Kirkos Island is a holy island, only monks of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church live there. The monks believe that the island was once the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant between 400 BC to AD 400.


The Teragedam Church forest is home to over 160 indigenous tree species. It provides a spectacular contrast when compared with the farmlands close to it. The meso-climatic differences between the forest and the farmland are significant.


Aquatic life

Lake Tana has about 28 fish species, of which 20 of them are endemic to the lake.

Church Forests

The church forests play an important role for conservation and biodiversity at Lake Tana.

Bird Life

Lake Tana is registered as one of the important bird areas by Bird Life International.

Capacity Building

Bahir Dar University is supporting the Lake Tana Biosphere Reserve activities.

Marabou Stork

Lake Tana and its wetlands provide an invaluable habitat for truly spectacular and unique birdlife. The marabou stork is a large wading bird of the Ciconiidae family.


Flocks of Great White Pelicans gliding across the lake’s surface are a sight visitors cannot fail to enjoy. These birds live here in abundance thriving on the fish stocks of the lake. They are real show-pieces for the lake’s peaceful and serene character.


Some of the management challenges around the lake include massive soil erosion, large-scale deforestation, hydrological interventions, wetland farming, habitat destruction, improper waste management, grazing above the ecological carrying capacity, lack of environmental awareness. As a result, the lake is already exposed to an alarming rate of siltation and pollution. The improvement of land-use methods in the entire watershed system are urgently required.


Today, agriculture is still the main source of income for around 90% of the people living in the Lake Tana watershed. The local people have strong ties to their land and still use traditional cultivation methods. Traditional ox-drawn wooden ploughs till the land and seeds are sown and harvested by hand. However, some more questionable practices, like the use of pesticides have also intruded land-use practices. Pesticides accumulate in soils and water. They can end up in drinking water. The effects on human health depend on the toxicity and intensity of exposure.


The young people of Bahir Dar can be seen as they enjoy skating. They represent the contrast of tradition and modernity in this vibrant region.

This multi-media production has been produced by UNESCO, in partnership with the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Ethiopia, UN Environment (UNEP), the Ethiopian Ministry for Water, Irrigation & Electricity, and the regional tourism and environment authorities. Financial support was provided by Germany, Austria, UNESCO and the Ministry of Water, Irrigation & Electricity. Additional technical and in-kind support was generously provided by the private sector:


– Robin Jähne Fotografie und Natur Film in cooperation with Henning Schwarze and UNESCO developed the script, conducted the interviews, produced the video-footage and sound, and managed the overall production, review, and revision.


– Emilia Böer composed and donated most of the music used for this multi-media feature


– Simien Ecotours made a bus available for the whole duration of the field-work, and for transporting the film-team from Addis Abeba to Bahir Dar and back.


– The Blue Nile Resort Hotel in Bahir Dar kindly made ten rooms available for the UNESCO film team for the duration of 14 days.


– Ethiopian Airlines provided five international air-tickets that allowed for the film-team to fly from Frankfurt to Addis Abeba.


UNESCO is very thankful to its partners and supporters, all of whom have significantly contributed to the successful completion of this multi-media production, aiming to contribute to educate the viewer and raise awareness and contribute to responsible nature and culture tourism development at Lake Tana.


The designations employed and the presentation of the material throughout this multi-media production do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO and its partners that assisted producing it, concerning legal status of any country, territory, city or area of its authorities, or concerning the delimination of its frontiers or boundaries.