Lake Natron: The truth about the red lake of Tanzania
Lake Natron in Tanzania, East Africa is different from your regular lakes. Firstly, it is red in color, with varying shades of orange and pink as well. The water in this lake is considered deadly because of its extremely high alkaline nature. The pH level of the lake is as high as that of ammonia. Here's more about it.
The extremely alkaline water in this lake has a pH as high as 10.5 and can burn the skin and eyes of animals that are not adapted to it. The lake is full of sodium carbonate and some salts released from the volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai. The caustic lake creates a crust on the bodies of any animals or birds that fall into it.
Unlike other lakes, the water in the lake doesn't flow out and keeps getting collected. The temperature of the lake can rise to 60 degree celsius. When the water evaporates, it leaves behind high amounts of salt. This hypersaline environment leads to the growth of haloarchaea, salt-loving microorganisms, giving it the red color. The area also receives very little rainfall.
The lake is a haven for flamingoes. Their tough skin safeguards them from burns. Besides, the lake is a safe breeding ground as its toxicity keeps predators away. Notably, some species of fish, invertebrates are able to survive toward the outer portions of the lake. The lake has a mirror-like surface that tricks birds into diving in, leading to their death.
Any birds that dive into the lake are calcified. This means that the salt in the lake hardens their bodies which makes them look like stone. Sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate are responsible for this phenomenon. In fact, Egyptians used these two things to mummify their dead. In 2011, wildlife photographer Nick Brandt's pictures of these dead animals made the world take notice.
Brand traveled to shoot pictures for a new book on the disappearing wildlife of East Africa in 2011 and came across this lake. "When I saw those creatures for the first time alongside the lake, I was completely blown away," says Brandt. "The idea for me, instantly, was to take portraits of them as if they were alive," he added.
The lake is home to flamingoes who thrive here without any complications. In fact, the lake is actually the biggest breeding ground across the globe for over 2.5 million lesser flamingoes. These flamingoes are able to feed off the blue-green algae that grow in this lake. Certain other water birds, like storks, are also not negatively affected by the lake's cyanobacteria.
You can opt to travel the lake during the rainy or dry season if you need walking tours around the lake. However, don't attempt to swim in it. You can also enjoy a trek at Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano near the lake.