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Interesting and Truly Riveting Facts About Lake Natron

Interesting Facts About Lake Natron
Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania is an unusual lake with a red color, with high levels of salinity, thanks to its geographical location. This post explores the lake's unusual characteristics, composition, and animals who survive in this hostile lake.
Neha B Deshpande
Last Updated: Feb 26, 2018
Did You Know?
The 'preserved dead animals' of Lake Natron, due to the high sodium content, is much similar to the Egyptian mummification process, which ensured that the bodies were perfectly preserved.
Nature never fails to intrigue and fascinate mankind. One such marvelous example is Lake Natron in Tanzania, a salt and soda lake that has an extremely hostile composition, a high alkaline level, and an extremely high temperature, surrounded by volcanic activities in the mountains. Yet, life does blossom in this harsh lake too: salt liking animals, and a rare species of flamingos known as the 'lesser flamingos'.

The unique red and pink colored lake has been included as a 'Ramsar Site' (wetlands of international importance). Here are a few intriguing facts of the Lake Natron.
Facts About Lake Natron
The lake has a red hue, thanks to the microorganisms that thrive in extremely salty waters.
It is true that this lake is extremely hostile to animals, given its temperature and high pH level. It is certainly harsh, however, the lake is home to many other creatures who can survive in these climatic conditions.
Location: It is located near the Gregory Rift, which is subject to high volcanic eruptions, in the Arusha Region of Tanzania. 'Ol Doinyo Lengai', Tanzania's active volcano, which erupts natrocarbonatite lava is located just to the south of Lake Natron.

The lake derives its name from the mineral 'natron', which is nothing but hydrated sodium carbonate.
Are There Fish in Lake Natron?
The pH level of the water is as high as 10.5, which is even higher than sea water. Such high level of alkaline increases the toxicity of ammonia in the water. This alkalinity is a direct result of a high level of sodium carbonate and other minerals. This is extremely dangerous for fish, who cannot survive this high level of alkalinity. Simply put, such toxic conditions are not at all conducive for fish to survive.
However, given the amazing characteristic of nature, there are still some aquatic animals and birds that survive in this lake. It is home to the endemic species of fish, alkaline tilapia fish, and algae.
Why is This Lake Red?
The lake derives its red color from the Spirulina, a blue-green algae with red pigments. There are cyanobacteria present in the water that again add to the red and pink hue.

In fact, photographs portray a beautiful mosaic pattern of bright-red, orange, and pink, which is the result of these microorganisms.
Temperature: Its temperature can reach as high as 60°C (140°F).
Despite the harsh climatic condition here, it is pivotal for the survival of lesser flamingos.
How Does the Lake Help in the Survival of the Species of Lesser Flamingos?
Flamingos flying at Lake Natron
Flamingos are highly adapted to saline environment. They can drink water at high temperature and at high saline levels too. Due to the coarse and caustic climatic condition, they get a safe breeding ground, away from the predators.
Flamingos visit the lake during the breeding season, during which, the water is shallow, and small islands are formed on the lake, which provides a place for them to build their nests. They can feed on the algae and other microorganisms there.

The lake is a breeding ground for more than three quarters of the population of lesser flamingos, thus responsible for the survival of this rare species. Of course, given the extremely hostile environment and the high temperature, it can sometimes be dangerous for these flamingos too.
Does Lake Natron Really Turn Animals into Stone?
Photographs by Nick Brandt of the calcified animals that were published in his book 'Across the Ravaged Land' look eerie indeed. A look at these animals will portray that somebody has cast a 'stupefy' curse (from the Harry Potter series) on them, and they froze into statues. He was fascinated by the lake, which perfectly preserved these animals, who unfortunately died due to unknown circumstances.
These amazing photographs against a black and white background create a haunting look, as the dead animals, which were preserved by nature, were artistically repositioned to their natural places as if they were alive.

An article by Marc Lallanilla, Assistant Director, Livescience, published by Discovery, states that, contrary to those reports, the lake is a dwelling place to flora and fauna that can survive these conditions. Similarly, an article of National Geographic by Brian Switek suggests that, though the photographs look eerie, the lake is not so ghastly, and is a home to some animals who survive in these waters.

These facts indicate that there is more to what meets the eye. Despite the photos suggesting that the lake is deadly, it still has animals thriving in and around it. Of course, some changes might even turn out to be deadly to the flamingos, since the lake is surrounded by a turbulent environment.

While scientific facts can be intriguing, it is necessary to make a thorough investigation before forming any conclusion. What causes the death of these animals is not known. However, the lake is equivalently beautiful as a breeding ground for the flamingos.
Threat Faced by the Flamingos
A proposed soda plant stands as a threat to the flamingos here, who already depend mostly on the lake to provide shelter to their nests. Anyway the hostile nature of the lake makes things difficult for the flamingos. Any disruption in the ecological balance here will immediately have an impact on these birds. We might lose the scenic beauty of such a spectacular lake, which is one of the biggest marvels of nature.
We hope that the bright red lake, which is indeed a subject of intrigue, is preserved in its natural condition. Though some animals might fall prey and be 'preserved' by this lake, there is no denying the fact that this unique lake helps in the survival of the lesser flamingos.