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Tanzania: the lake Natron and the petrified animals

3 min read

Don’t let the ring of salty marshes along the edge of Lake Natron fool you: this body of water is one of the most inhospitable areas on Earth!
We are in Monduli, Tanzania. Even if the salty red hell is a beautiful sight for eyes, unfortunately conceals a terrible secret.
Colored a deep red from salt-loving organisms and algae, the lake reaches hellish temperatures and is nearly as lethal as ammonia.
We known that most human settlements throughout history have formed around lakes and rivers, however, the barren and inhospital landscape around Lake Natron tells a clear story about a place in which no one ever wanted to live.

So, It is a small hell on earth for animals that dared to venture: its lethal compound is sodium hydrate carbonate known with the name “natron”. This composition is due to the nearby volcano of Doinyo, which emits extremely alkaline magmatic rocks.
If water should to give life, in this salty world the life is almost impossible…almost!
Despite this, here, thousands of microorganisms proliferate especially in the dry season, populating Lake Natron even more.
Although most species cannot bear the 120-degree lake water, cyanobacteria have made Natron their home and they are responsible, with their pigment, to give the red color with different variations of tones to the waters of the lake.

In reality this algae growth has also fostered the developments of an animal that, despite everything, manages to survive and can even reproduce in this hostile place, building nests of mud on the banks: the Lesser Flamingo . Amazingly, 2.5 million flamingos make Lake Natron their home and it is considered one of their only breeding grounds.
Thanks to its horny protective layer on legs and beak it is not “attacked” by the caustic water of the lake and thanks to the lack of predators and to the algae that can filter through salted water, it becomes, in fact, its ideal habitat.
Bringing in fresh water would greatly upset the ecological balance of the lake and many locals in Tanzania have fought against bringing in water from the Ewaso Ng’iro River. If the salinity of the lake decreases, the cyanobacteria will also decrease and cause a loss of habitat for the endangered flamingos.

A curiosity? Instead of decomposing, the corpses of the animals that unfortunately fall into Lake Natron, undergo a natural embalming process, becoming similar to statues. The British photographer Nick Brandt immortalized their remains, posing them with a truly disturbing result.

Images from Web.
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