Lake Maracaibo

From Academic Kids

Lake Maracaibo is a large body of water in northwestern Venezuela. If considered a lake, it is the largest lake in South America. However, by some definitions it should be considered a sea because it is connected by way of a 54-km (34-mile) strait to the Gulf of Venezuela, and thence to the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. In that case, Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America.

Lake Maracaibo acts as a major route for sea traffic to the ports of Maracaibo and Cabimas. It is also home to large deposits of crude oil and is the only major source in South America which makes the lake a major profit center for Venezuela. Its main tributary is the Catatumbo River.

Collision of 1964

Missing image
Tanker Esso Maracaibo and wrecked bridge

On April 6, 1964, at 11:45 pm, the supertanker Esso Maracaibo, loaded with 236,000 barrels of crude oil hit pier # 31 of the 2-year-old General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge that connects Maracaibo with much of the rest of Venezuela.

While navigating the canal, after having been loaded with crude, the vessel lost steering due to a major electrical failure onboard. The collision with the bridge structure followed within a few minutes. A 259-meter section of the bridge roadway fell into the water with a portion coming to rest across the tanker just a few feet from the ship's superstructure. Four vehicles drove off into the void left by the collapsed sections and seven lives in the vehicles were lost.

Amazingly, there was no loss of life or serious injury on the tanker, and no explosion or fire. No oil spill occurred.

Duckweed Infestation

As of June 18, 2004, a large portion (12%) of the surface of Lake Maracaibo is covered by duckweed. Although efforts to remove the plant have been underway since May, the plant, which can double its size every 48 hours, covers over 130 million cubic metres of the lake. The government has been spending $2 million monthly to clean the lake, and the state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. has created a $750 million cleanup fund. Current efforts are barely keeping up with the growth of the plant.

Although decaying surface plant life can adversely affect marine life, it doesn't appear that this has occurred, however duckweed can provide a hazard for fishing boats.

It is probable that the infestation is a result of oil spills, sewage, and industrial runoff, as have recent heavy rainfall, which has reduced the lake's salinity. The prodigious growth of the freshwater marine plant is likely a self-purification de Maracaibo fr:Lac Maracaibo de:Maracaibo-See ja:マラカイボ湖 pl:Jezioro Maracaibo


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