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Lake Natron - Roads could have detrimental effects on the ecology of Lake Natron

Lake Natron is located in northern western Tanzania, close to the Kenyan border, in the eastern branch of the Great Rift Valley. The lake is a salt lake and is fed by the Ewaso Ng'iro River and the mineral-rich hot springs. It is less than three meters deep, and varies in width depending on its water level, which changes due to high levels of evaporation, leaving high levels of salt and other minerals. The surrounding country is dry and receives irregular rainfall. Temperatures in the lake can reach 50 degrees Celsius and depending on rainfall, the alkalinity can reach a pH of 9 to 10.5 

The color ranges from deep red in the open water and orange in the shallow parts of the lake.

The lake is an important habitat for Flamingo's and is home to endemic algae, invertebrates and even fish that can survive in the salty water. The lake is the only regular breeding area in East Africa for the 2.5 million endangered Lesser Flamingo - Phoenicopterus minor.

Threats to the salinity balance from increased fresh water influxes will come from more projected logging in the Natron watersheds and a planned hydroelectric power plant on the Ewaso Ng'iro across the border in Kenya. Although development plans include construction of a dike at the north end of the lake to contain the fresh water, the threat of dilution to this breeding ground may still be serious. There is no formal protection.

A new threat to Lake Natron is the proposed development of a soda ash plant on its shores. The plant would pump water from the lake and extract the sodium carbonate to convert to washing powder for export. Accompanying the plant would be housing for over 1000 workers, and a coal fired power station to provide energy for the plant complex. In addition, there is a possibility the developers may introduce a hybrid brine shrimp to increase the efficiency of extraction. Conservation organizations and local communities worry that the construction of roads to connect major cities in the region could have detrimental effects on the ecology of Lake Natron and could be used as an incentive to revive plans to build a soda ash plant at Lake Natron.

According to Chris Magin, the RSPB's international officer for Africa 'The chance of the lesser flamingoes continuing to breed in the face of such mayhem are next to zero. This development will leave lesser flamingoes in East Africa facing extinction'. Currently a group of more than 50 East African conservation and environmental institutions are running a world wide campaign to stop the planned construction of the soda ash factory by Tata Chemicals Ltd of Mumbai, India and National Development Corporation of Tanzania. The group working under the umbrella name Lake Natron Consultative Group is being co-ordinated by Ken Mwathe, Conservation Programme Manager at BirdLife International's Africa Secretariat.

As per communication as on June 2008 Tata Chemicals shall not proceed with the Natron Project and further re-examination of this project will be subject to the Ramsar Wetlands plan which is currently under preparation.

Because of its unique biodiversity, Tanzania named the Lake Natron Basin to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance on July 4, 2001. The lake is also the World Wildlife Fund East African Halophytics ecoregion.




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