New study says ‘hands off Lake Natron’


(Posted 02nd December 2013)

When details emerged last week of an exhaustive scientific study, conducted on behalf of Tanzania’s National Development Corporation, in other words the government itself, that the implementation of President Kikwete’s directive to move ahead with the controversial soda ash extraction plant at Lake Natron would ‘almost certainly wipe out East Africa’s Lesser Flamingo population’ the many opponents around the world felt totally vindicated.

Bedeviled by Tanzanian government mouthpieces in the past as ‘enemies of progress’ and with often racial undertones ‘muzungus [Kiswahili word for white people] and foreigners are trying to deny us development’ the opposition nevertheless forced India’s TATA Corporation out of the game in 2008 already, as the PR strategists at TATA soon figured into what global firestorm they would walk should they go ahead with their plans at the time to build a soda ash extraction plant at Lake Natron.

The 8 months study showed conclusively that 90 percent of the lake are a key habitat for East Africa’s lesser flamingos, and that the mud flats are the only place in East Africa where the flamingos breed due to their unique nesting habits. These birds come in their millions but only when breeding conditions are right – a hard to define pattern admittedly – and then make their nests with mud, laying their eggs which are during the day incubated by the extreme heat and only at night are the parents then sitting on the eggs to keep them warm. Marc Baker of the Arusha based ‘Ecological Initiatives’, the main author of the study, elaborates in great detail what pattern the birds follow when the young ones are born, including their constant movement and search for fresh water springs to allow the chicks to wash off the soda on their feathers, which otherwise would kill them if not removed.

The study shows that the proposed plant site has been squarely ‘planted’ right in the middle of the most crucial habitat, and there is no wonder that the author and his colleagues had to conclude that if the facility is in fact constructed, that the destruction of the crucial habitat and the disturbance of the bird’s pattern of feeding and seeking fresh water would be so disruptive that the lesser flamingos would soon be no more. Currently numbers of the flamingos vary from between 1 to 2.5 million birds, depending on food availability, mostly in Kenya’s alkaline Rift Valley lakes like Elementaita, Nakuru and Bogoria, among others, and depending on, as has been mentioned, a rather unpredictable breeding patterns which is not exactly annual or by the calendar.

Birdlife International, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Lake Natron Consultative Group had in the past taken the lead to oppose the Tanzanian government’s plans for the construction of a soda ash plant, in the trail of which there was added talk of connecting Lake Natron to a railway link and have the equally controversial Serengeti highway route along the edges of the lake ecosystem to provide easy access by trucks.

Evidence has now converged. Economic studies have shown soda ash mining is not a viable option. Ecology, hydrology and technical considerations now confirm the same’ said according to the information passed on over the weekend Mr. Ken Mwathe, Policy and Advocacy Programme Coordinator at BirdLife International. ‘The
Government of Tanzania should respect this evidence and drop soda ash mining
’ he was quoted to have added.
Earlier in 2013 did the Tanzanian media report that six foreign firms placed bids to set up the controversial soda ash plant on the shores of Tanzania’s Lake Natron on invitation of NDC and the Tanzanian government, the latter of which had publicly stated that they would go ahead no matter what opposition was put in their way.

Time as always will tell if the ‘Corridor of Destruction’ the Tanzanian government has schemed up, from Musoma on Lake Victoria across the Serengeti, Lake Natron, the Eastern Arc Mountains to the Coelacanth Marine National Park in Mwambani near Tanga – besides equally disruptive assaults on the Selous with uranium mining and plans to build a hydro electric plant in the core of the reserve’s tourism area around Stieglers’ Gorge – will ultimately be rolled out in the face of now concrete evidence, that Lake Natron should be left alone and turned into a major tourism resource. Watch this space. (Links to the article series ‘The corridor of destruction’:

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