Lake Natron, situated in northern Tanzania, close to the Kenyan border, in the Great Rift Valley, is one of the most peaceful places in Africa. But appearances can be deceiving: its waters hold a fatal secret.
Due to the rare chemical composition, the lake ends up petrifying the animals that enter it. The photographer and expert on the African continent, Nick Brandt, produced some images of the statues of animals that died in the lake, his work went viral on the internet and generated curiosity to understand what this lake has.
In the post titled All Over the Wasteland, the photographer wrote: “I unexpectedly encountered the creatures – all manner of birds and bats – along the shores of Lake Natron in northern Tanzania. No one is quite sure exactly how they die, but it seems that the lake reflects light a lot and this confuses them. Just like birds colliding with glass windows, these fell into the lake.”
David Harper, an ecologist at the University of Leicester who has visited Lake Natron four times, came to a conclusion in his research on the site: “If a body falls somewhere else, it decomposes very quickly, but at the lake’s edge, it gets encrusted. in salt and lasts forever”.
According to the American television program Discovery News, this has a scientific explanation. The lake waters have an extremely alkaline pH, which is between 9 and 10.5. The high caustic level can cause great damage, burn the skin and eyes of animals.
This is due to sodium carbonate and other minerals, which end up in the lake, as a result of materials that come from the hills next to the river. This was caused by a volcano that is to the south of the lake, causing the ash runoff to run into its waters.
The lake mummies
Sodium carbonate was already used in mummification processes in Egypt, which gave the animals killed in the lake the reputation of mummies. Since the beings that die there are preserved and automatically become salt statues.
The water level is naturally low, causing many birds, bats and insects – that try to cross the river, to end up falling and dying. Another factor that interferes is the temperature, the lake is in a very hot region, and its waters can reach up to 60 degrees, causing burns in the animals. In the heat, when the water level drops further, the dead animals are left on the shores of the lake – left just as photographer Nick Brandt found them.
The high mortality rate does not seem to frighten some species, such as the lesser flamingos. They manage to survive in this region and feed on the cyanobacteria in the lake. The reproduction of flamingos grows every day, since the greater the salinity of the lake, the greater the number of bacteria, and consequently, the flamingo nests increase in the region. In addition to this species, tilapia also occupy the lake’s hot springs. Being one of the few animals that can survive.
This is one of the only alkaline lakes in Africa and its waters do not flow into other lakes and oceans. Due to its unique biodiversity, Tanzania has included the Lake Natron basin in the List of Wetlands of International Importance since 4 July 2001.