Lake Enriquillo & Etang Saumatre, Dominican Republic & Haiti

Lake Locations:

Dominican Republic - Haiti -

Also known as:  Lago Enriquillo, Lac Azuei

The mysteries of Lake Enriquillo and Etang Saumatre (also called Lac Azuei) on the Island of Hispaniola continue to grow-as do the two lakes. Hispaniola, the most populous island in the Caribbean, holds the countries of Haiti and Dominican Republic. The lakes made news in 2012 because of their growing size, drowning nearby villages and threatening to merge into one lake. The twin lakes, one in each country, lie within the same geological basin called the Cul-De-Sac Plain. The eastern edge of Etang Saumatre in Haiti is the border between the two countries. Both are saltwater lakes. However, Lake Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic is saltier than the Caribbean Sea, while Etang Saumatre in Haiti has far less salinity.

Neither Lake Enriquillo nor Etang Saumatre has a natural outlet. Both lie in the rift valley formed by the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault that extends from Port-au-Prince Bay in Haiti to near Neiba Bay in the Dominican Republic. This fault was the cause of the catastrophic 2010 Haiti earthquake, and tremors are common in the area. The area of the fault is a former marine strait and holds several saltwater lakes. Parts of the valley are below sea level, including Lake Enriquillo, which is actually the lowest point in the Caribbean.

The two lakes have a history of growing and receding in relation to rainfall and evaporation. Lake levels can rise or fall nearly seven feet in response to heavy rains most years. Reports as far back as 1900 document this phenomenon, with some historical accounts reporting that the levels of both lakes had dropped since the time of Columbus 500 years ago. However, since 2003 the lakes have grown and have not receded as usual. This has been devastating to local subsistence farmers who cultivate the flat land around the privately-owned portions of Etang Saumatre shoreline. Lake Enriquillo is not used for irrigation due to the salt content, but Etang Saumatre is used as a limited irrigation source.

Fishing is not a true industry here, although government efforts stocked carp and tilapia in Etang Saumatre in 1954. Some fishing for subsistence needs occurs, often from shore. In recent years, over 1000 small farms and several villages have been flooded. Because the surrounding hillsides are too steep for farming, these displaced farmers have no place to go, resulting in even more impoverished families flooding into Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, less than 20 miles west of Etang Saumatre. World relief programs have begun feeding programs in both countries to help provide for the many displaced lakeshore residents.

The enlarged lakes are also a disaster for the many birds and animals that inhabit the wetlands surrounding the lakes. Both lakes host American crocodiles, which are not as affected as bird populations. Flamingos have suffered from the loss of mud flats, both at Etang Saumatre and Lake Enriquillo where the largest island served as a favored feeding area. Etang Saumatre has hosted over 100 species of birds, freshwater turtles, migrating waterfowl and wading birds, with many over-wintering here. The Lac Azuei Biosphere Reserve is planned but not yet developed.

The largest island on Lake Enriquillo is part of Isla Cabritos National Park, established in 1996. Once severely overgrazed by goats and cattle, the island as been allowed to regenerate into a wildlife refuge, home to one of the largest populations of American crocodiles on earth. Two species of iguanas and more than 60 different types of birds also live here. Boat tours can be arranged by park staff from near the village of La Descubierta on the northwest side of the lake. A road around Lake Enriquillo is still reported as passable, although there are several rough detours where water covers the road. Less than three miles separate the two lakes, so high water often means the road between the two lakes is flooded, making travel between the two countries difficult.

Haiti and Dominican Republic are very different economically. Dominican Republic is far more prosperous than its neighbor to the west with a thriving tourism industry along the Caribbean coast. Ecotourism is being encouraged here, and facilities for tourists are becoming more numerous. Haiti’s economic problems run far deeper, and it will be years before this country can benefit from tourism in the unique natural regions around Etang Saumatre. Both countries and the world community are attempting to solve the problem of the rising water but having little success, primarily because water flowing into the lakes has no natural outlets.

The Cul-Se-Sac Plain is arid, almost desert-like due to the surrounding mountains blocking precipitation from the Caribbean. Seasonal rains and tropical storms that dump sporadic water on the area run off the mountains surrounding the lakes and sink into the soil, ultimately to reappear in springs bubbling up from the limestone rock. Some sedimentation has evidently affected lake levels but it is unclear how much. Historical aerial surveys show little change in watershed deforestation since the first surveys were performed in 1986, so deforestation alone cannot account for the increased water levels. Water balance studies show the lakes’ levels are highly responsive to precipitation, and the past ten years have seen higher than normal rainfall. Temperatures have also been relatively moderate, causing less water loss through evaporation.

Historical elevation levels of the lakes show that both have lower elevations than shown in 1900; the 1900 survey showed Etang Saumatre at 65 feet above sea level. Currently the lake is only 49 feet above sea level. Lake Enriquillo shows a similar pattern, with 1900 records showing it at 111 feet below sea level, and now it is currently at 147 feet below sea level. Tectonic changes in the rift below the lakes are not well studied or understood. Reports from villages west of Etang Saumatre show springs beginning to appear in villages west of the lake after the 2010 earthquake. So, tectonic changes may also contribute to the increasing lake levels.

Although Dominican Republic is well-supplied with resorts and often served by cruise ships, Lake Enriquillo and Etang Saumatre are near few of the most popular tourist destinations. Most cruise destinations are located on the north and west coasts of the island. There are eco-resorts located in Barahona on the southern coast, however, which offer treks to the lakes and to the bio-reserves located in Dominican Republic. Some tourists arrive via Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, but travel accommodations may be more difficult to arrange unless one uses a reputable tourism agent with experience in the area. Travel in Haiti can be dangerous for the solitary traveler, so group travel is recommended. There don’t appear to be any internationally-advertised accommodations on either lake at the present time, although a few local hotels appear on maps of the area. If you visit the lakes, bring the binoculars for viewing thousands of birds.

*Statistics listed are a composite of the most recent published measurements of both lakes and are likely outdated due to the rapid changes occurring

Things to do at Lake Enriquillo & Etang Saumatre

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Fish species found at Lake Enriquillo & Etang Saumatre

  • Carp
  • Tilapia

Lake Enriquillo & Etang Saumatre Photo Gallery

Lake Enriquillo & Etang Saumatre Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Saltwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 131,608 acres

Shoreline Length: 98 miles

Trophic State: Eutrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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