Lake Võrtsjärv (270 km2, catchment area 3374 km2) in South Estonia is the second largest lake in Baltic countries and the largest lake within the boundaries of Estonia. It is a shallow and turbid eutrophic lake with a mean depth of 2.8 m and maximum depth of 6 m. The water level changes with annual mean amplitude 1.4 m, and this, together with winds, is the main factor influencing the biota in the lake.
L. Võrtsjärv is covered with ice on average 130 days a year (from the end of November till April 20th ). Not considering Lake Peipsi on the Russian border, Võrtsjärv surpasses all other Estonian lakes together by the surface area. The lake can be conditionally divided into two quite different parts: the large open to winds middle and northern area, and the narrow sheltered south area. The few islands are mostly located in the southern part of the lake. In the South part of L. Võrtsjärv fine-grained sediments, rich in organic compounds, are accumulating. Therefore this area is overgrown with macrovegetation during summer. The plants in northern and middle parts of the lake are under the wind stress and submerged plants are not so successful there.
Lake Võrtsjärv as a whole is proposed as Natura 2000 Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area for Conservation (SAC). A total of 213 bird species have been recorded at Lake Võrtsjärv, among them 138 breeders (including 56 occurring only in habitats: reed, meadows, sandy/gravelly shores), 14 summer foragers/feeders and 61 migratory passengers. In addition to Botaurus stellaris, several bird species of Natura Bird Directive live at L. Võrtsjärv. The lake and the large surrounding wetlands are also important migration staging grounds for waterfowl and shorebirds. In L. Võrtsjärv live also three fish species included in the Estonian Red Data Book – Silurus glanis as endangered species, Coregonus albula as care demanding species, and Aspius aspius as indeterminated species. In addition to these, in the inflowing rivers live Natura 2000 fish species Misgurnus fossilis, Cobitis taenia and Barbatula barbatula.
LAKE VÕRTSJÄRV CENTRE: Education and information
Lake Võrtsjärv has a great recreational value as well as a considerable fishery and navigational importance. The beauty of Võrtsjärv and its surrounding nature has, throughout the ages, attracted visitors and has been offering possibilities for activity holidays and for spending free time.
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Lake Võrtsjärv is too few known in Estonia as well as abroad. The lake suffers from remarkable human impact - mainly nutrient load from agricultural activities and inflow of untreated or poorly treated wastewater.
There are several possibilities to improve the status and rise the popularity of the lake, but it demands more information and co-operation of all the groups of interested people. Information exchange and education are the most powerful activities to raise the awareness of people and through it, reduce/avoid the negative impact human activities to the lake and surroundings.
Education through direct conversation in groups during lectures, seminars, exhibitions, courses, excursions, meetings, etc. reaches people’s mind deeply and effectively. Trained people are in more or less extent the distributors of their new/refreshed knowledge, either through teaching more people (teachers), or just through environment-saving behaviour and decision-making.
The Võrtsjärv Centre is the place where any kind of information about region, and knowledge is concentrated, available and distributed.
On the basis of the knowledge of the existing staff of the Võrtsjärv Limnological Centre, Educational Centre of Inland Waters (ECIV) together with Lake Museum in established in Võrtsjärv Centre.