Lake Natron – Monduli, Tanzania - Atlas Obscura

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Lake Natron

A salty red wasteland in Tanzania is a breeding spot for endangered flamingos. 


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.

Colored a deep red from salt-loving organisms and algae, the lake reaches hellish temperatures and is nearly as basic as ammonia. Although most human settlements throughout history have formed around lakes and rivers, the barren landscape around Lake Natron tells a clear story of a place no one ever wanted to live.

Africa’s Great Rift Valley is known for some of its environmentally extreme regions such as the Erta Ale and Dallol. The saline environment of Lake Natron certainly qualifies. Water is supposed to give life, yet this salty world seems content to make life almost impossible… almost.

Although most species cannot handle the 120-degree lake water, cyanobacteria have made Natron their home and turned the lake its trademark reds and oranges. This algae growth has also fostered the developments of Lesser Flamingo nests. Amazingly, 2.5 million flamingos make Lake Natron their home and it is considered one of their only breeding grounds, making preservation of the lake an environmental concern.

In fact, bringing in fresh water would greatly upset the ecological balance of the lake and many in Tanzania have actively 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. Besides losing a bird habitat, the world would also lose a beautiful and salty natural wonder if too much water is diverted south to Natron.

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October 2, 2013

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