Lake Natron – Flora, Fauna, Preservation, Visiting and More

Lake Natron – Flora, Fauna, Preservation, Visiting and More

Lake Natron is an alkaline or saline lake in Tanzania’s Arusha Region, located in the north Ngorongoro District. It is located in the Gregory Rift, which is part of the East African Rift Valley‘s eastern branch. The lake is located inside Lake Natron Basin, which is a Ramsar Site wetland of worldwide importance.

Satellite image of the lake on 6 March 2017
Satellite image of the lake on 6 March 2017

The Southern Ewaso Ng’iro River, which originates from central Kenya, and hot springs rich in minerals are the main sources of water supply for the Lake Natron. It is relatively shallow, measuring only up to three meters (9.8 feet) deep, and its breadth changes depending on the water level. Lake Natron has a breadth of 57km (35 miles) and is 22 km (14 miles) broad at its widest point. The surrounding region experiences erratic seasonal rainfall, with an annual total of 800 mm (31 inches) falling primarily between May and December. Lake Natron’s temperature is usually above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

Trona (sodium sesquicarbonate dihydrate) and Natron (sodium carbonate decahydrate) have been left behind due to high amounts of evaporation. The lake’s alkalinity can exceed a pH of 12. The neighboring bedrock is made up of alkaline, sodium concentrated trachyte lavas that date back to the Pleistocene. Carbonate is abundant in the lavas, although magnesium and calcium levels are quite low. The lake has been able to concentrate into a caustic alkaline brine as a result of this.

Lake Natron’s Flora

Lake Natron’s color is indicative of lakes with extremely high evaporation rates. Salinity levels rise when water evaporates in the dry season, allowing salt-loving microbes to flourish. Some cyanobacteria, for example, are halophile creatures that create their own food through photosynthesis, just like plants. The deep reds of the open water of the lake and the orange hues of the shallow areas of the lake are produced by the red accessory photosynthesizing pigmentation of the cyanobacteria. The salt-loving bacteria that reside there typically tint the alkali salt crust on the lake’s surface pink or red. Around the lake’s margins, freshwater and salt marshes wetlands host a diverse range of flora.

Lake Natron Fauna

The high temperature of Lake Natron (a maximum of 60 °C [140 °F]) and high and changeable salt concentration are unsuitable to most species. Nonetheless, indigenous algae, birds, and invertebrates can be found in Lake Natron. Some fish may even thrive in somewhat less saline water along their edges.

Lake Natron is the sole regular breeding place for the 2.5 million lesser flamingos in East Africa, who have been classified as “near endangered” due to their reliance on this single locale. When salinity rises, cyanobacteria thrive, and more nesting birds can be supported by the lake. These flamingos, East Africa’s only sizable flock, congregate along neighboring salty lakes to feast on Spirulina (red pigmented blue-green algae). Due to its caustic environment, predators are unable to access their eggs on evaporite islands, which are formed seasonally, Lake Natron is a safe nesting habitat. The mudflats are also breeding zones for greater flamingos.

Because of its strong link to the Lesser flamingos as their sole permanent nesting habitat, Lake Natron inspired Disneynature’s nature documentary The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos.

In the waters of the hot spring inlets, two indigenous fish species, the alkaline tilapias Alcolapia ndalani and A. latilabris, flourish. Although A. alcalica is found in Lake Natron, it is not endemic.

Threats to the Environment and Preservation Surrounding Lake Natron

Although the land around Lake Natron is uninhabited, there is some seasonal agriculture and grazing. More predicted logging in the Natron watershed regions and a proposed hydroelectric power station on the Ewaso Nyiro across the Kenyan border would pose threats to the salinity balance due to increasing siltation influxes. Despite plans to build a dike at the north end of Lake Natron to restrict the freshwater, the potential of dilution to this breeding site remains a severe concern. There is no official safeguard in place.

The projected establishment of a soda ash factory near Lake Natron’s beaches has become a new hazard. The factory would collect sodium carbonate from lake water and convert it to washing powder which is to be exported. The factory would be accompanied by accommodation for approximately 1000 laborers and a coal-fired power plant to supply electricity to the plant. There is also a chance that the developers may create a hybrid brine shrimp to boost extraction efficiency.

Chris Magin, the international officer of the RSPB for Africa, claims that “In the midst of such chaos, the lesser flamingos’ chances of reproducing are little to none. Lesser flamingos found in East Africa will face extinction as a result of this change “. Lake Natron is the birthplace of 75% of the world’s lesser flamingos. Currently, a consortium of over fifty East African environmental and conservation organizations is waging a global campaign to block Tata Chemicals Ltd of Mumbai in India and Tanzania’s National Development Corporation from building a soda ash factory. Ken Mwathe, Conservation Programme Manager of BirdLife International’s Africa Secretariat, is in charge of the organization that is known as Lake Natron Consultative Group.

Tata Chemicals will not continue with the Natron Proposal, according to a June 2008 message, and any future re-examination will be subject to the currently being prepared Ramsar Wetlands Plan. Tanzania added the Lake Natron Basin to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance on July 4, 2001, due to its unique biodiversity. The World Wildlife Fund’s East African halophytics ecoregion is also located near the lake.

Visiting Lake Natron

A view of Ol Doinyo Lengai from Lake Natron
A view of Ol Doinyo Lengai from Lake Natron

A number of campsites are located around Lake Natron, which also serves as the starting point for ascending Ol Doinyo Lengai. Lake Natron has enormous tourist appeal potential, which is critical for the development of ecotourism. The main challenges associated with the management of ecotourism in the area were identified as an absence of a management plan, insufficient financing at the operational level, absence of measures to ensure a fair distribution of ecotourism benefits, and underdeveloped infrastructure to sustain diverse sections of tourists. Shompole Conservancy Kenya also has access to the lake.

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