Loktak Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in Northeastern India, is situated in the Bishnupur district of Manipur, about 48 kilometres from its state capital city of Imphal. This lake of arresting beauty stretches up to 312 square kilometre area. It is also called the only floating island in the world, because of phumdis (heterogeneous mass of vegetation, soil and organic matters) or the patches of grasslands which float on it.
The lake is the lowest lying area of the state and oval in shape with maximum length and width of 26 km and 13 km respectively. There are 14 hills varying in size and elevation, appearing as islands in the southern part of the lake. The most prominent of them are Sendra, Ithing and Thanga islands.
Various species of birds and animals inhabit this space and a large population living in and around the lake depends upon the lake resources for their sustenance. The ancient lake plays an important role in maintaining the ecological balance of the state and certainly its economy. Fish, which is the staple food of Manipur, mostly goes from this lake. The annual fish yield from the Loktak Lake is accounted to be about 1,500 tonnes. The water from the lake is used for hydropower generation, irrigation and also serves the purpose of drinking water. The lake is rich in biodiversity and has been recognised as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention of 1990.
At the south-west periphery of this lake is the Keibul Lamjao National Park, believed to be the only floating National Park in the world inhabited by the majestic Brow Antlered Deer (Sangai) or the dancing deer, which is listed as an endangered species by International Union for Conservation of Nature. This park was initially declared as a Sanctuary in 1966, but subsequently declared as a National Park in 1977. Also, it is an important bird area as identified by BNHS, Mumbai and Birdlife International.
Apart from the Brow-Antlered Deer (Sangai), some other animals found at the National Park are the hog deer, wild boar, large Indian civets, common otter, fox, jungle cat, golden cat, shrew, flying fox, sambar, keel back tortoise, viper, krait, cobra, Asian rat snake, python, hooded crane, Burmese sarus sarus crane, Indian white breasted water hen, crimson-breasted pied wood pecker etc. The best time to visit the Loktak Lake is in winter from November to early March.
For the last few decades the ecosystem of the lake has deteriorated due to several activities, both natural and man-made. Rapid expansion of phumdis due to eutrophication, siltation, pollution, agriculture and adverse effects from Loktak Hydropower Project has led to an alarming destruction of the lake. One of the measures taken by the State government is the removal of phumdis at many places.
The North East Centre for Environmental Education and Research (NECEER), Imphal, has been spearheading the “Worldwide Save Loktak Lake Campaign” which is supported by more than 20 national and international organisations. Involvement of youth and mobilization of public for the conservation of Loktak Lake is the main objective of the campaign. More than 1000 volunteers and 32 city coordinators are involved in devising this campaign.
Today, the lake is under the supervision of Loktak Development Authority (LDA), which was reconstituted by the Government of Manipur in July 1987. The Chief Minister or his nominee is the Chairman of the Authority.