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Lake Profile

Cocibolca (Nicaragua)

General Information

Description The aboriginal name for this lake, Cocibolca, means "sweet sea". It is the largest lake in Central America and one of the very few, or perhaps the only, freshwater lake to have sharks, although their numbers have dropped precipitously.
Country Nicaragua
Latitude 11° 30' 0" (11.5000)
Longitude -85° 30' 0" (-85.5000)


 Cocibolca global index map (LakeNet Explorer)
 Cocibolca location map
 Latin America & Mexico Biodiversity Conservation Priorities
 Lake Basin Management Initiative (LakeNet Explorer)
 USAID-supported Lake Basin Management and Biodiversity Conservation Technical Assistance 2003-2004 (LakeNet Explorer)

Physical Characteristics

Description Cocibolca is one of the 40 largest lakes in the world by both surface area and volume. Its origins are both tectonic and volcanic.
Volume 108.00 km3
Surface Area 8,150.00 km2
Depth Mean depth: 13.0 m
Maximum depth: 45.0 m
Origin Tectonic
Type Fresh
Catchment Catchment size: 23,844.00 km2
Catchment/surface area ratio: 3:1


Economic Value
Major Cities Granada

Watershed Management

Description An organization of mayors of municipalities surrounding Lake Cocibolca has been established (AMUGRAN). AMUGRAN and coalition partners have presented leading legislators and executive branch officers with legislation establishing a sustainable development corridor that unites the Xolotan, Cocibolca and San Juan River watersheds, to promote watershed-wide planning and protection. A GEF-funded project developed the San Juan River Basin Strategic Action Program in January 2001.
Watershed Action Plan In development
Issues Main threats include the aquafarming of invasive tilapia, toxics from opencast mining, aerial fertilizing, fumigating, and urban wastewater.

Commercial fishing targeting largetooth sawfish has caused a large decline in populations since 1970. Meat derived from these fish is consumed domestically and exported overseas. The Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas), which migrates between the Caribbean Sea and Lake Cocibolca is also being overexploited.

Other threats include sedimentation from logging, road construction, and makeshift settlements in urban areas.

Mining has caused the loss of aquatic and riparian habitats, and the disappearance of numerous species of fish, mammals, birds and invertebrates.

Other Issues Erosion
Point source pollution
Polluted runoff
Specific Contaminants Industrial
Monitoring Programs In-Lake
Water Quality

Land Use

Biodiversity Conservation

Description The sawfish Pristis perotteti is endemic to Lake Colcibolca.
Designations LakeNet Biodiversity Priority
Ramsar Site
WWF Conservation Status Priority II
Species of Concern
Invasive Species Level Moderate


Research Center for Inland Waters of Nicaragua, University Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua
Association of Municipalities in the Watershed of the Great Lake Nicaragua

LakeNet Programs

World Lake Basin Management Initiative
LakeNet 2000: A Dialogue on Participatory Watershed Management
USAID-funded Technical Assistance
Nicaragua: Lake Cocibolca Integrated Water Management and Biodiversity Conservation
LBMI Regional Experience Sharing and Review Workshop for Europe, Central Asia & the Americas


Cocibolca/Nicaragua  (PDF) Experience Brief. Final. 2/27/2006.
LakeNet News, Winter 2003-2004 (PDF)  Newsletter. Final. English. 12/20/2003.
Managing Lake Basins for Sustainable Use - Lake Basin Management Initiative Final Report (PDF)  Project Report. Final. English. 2/27/2006.


Biodiversity Conservation of the World's Lakes: A Preliminary Framework for Identifying Priorities
Crop Explorer - Global Reservoir and Lake Elevation Monitoring
Crop Explorer - Lake Level Variations from TOPEX/POSEIDON and Jason-1 Altimetry for Lake Cocibolca (Nicaragua)
Freshwater Biodiversity of Latin America and the Caribbean: A Conservation Assessment
ILEC Database
Ometepe Biological Field Station (on largest island in Cocibolca)
Tilapia farming: benefit or menace?


1/18/2006 - Nicaragua bans freshwater shark fishing
9/28/2004 - Dead Fish in Cocibolca Lake of Nicaragua
4/23/2004 - Towards a Lake Basin Management Initiative
3/19/2003 - Muerte de peces es cancer ambiental
1/21/2003 - Cocibolca peligra por contaminantes
9/16/2001 - Auscultan situacion del Lago Cocibolca

Additional Data Sources

Birkett, C., and I. Mason. 1995. A new global lakes database for remote sensing programme studying climatically sensitive large lakes. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 21 (3) 307-318.
Duker, L. and L. Borre. 2001. Biodiversity conservation of the world's lakes: a preliminary framework for identifying priorities. LakeNet Report Series Number 2. Annapolis, Maryland USA.

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