The development is being proposed by Lake Natron Resources Ltd., a company jointly owned by Tata Chemicals Ltd. and the Tanzania National Development Corporation, a state-owned entity established to coordinate commercial development in Tanzania. The proposal has the support of the President.
The soda ash plant will consume hundreds (560 m3) of cubic metres of brine from the lake and will also return 475 m3 of depleted brine to the lake per hour. The development will need power and freshwater sources and housing for the construction workers and those who will eventually work at the plant. The scale of the planned development is very likely to destroy the ecosystem of the lake and drive away the breeding flamingos.
The 58 x 15 km lake is only 50 cm deep and is the most significant and regular breeding site for the majority of the world’s breeding population of the Lesser Flamingo, Phoenicopterus minor. It is easily the biggest of only three breeding sites in Africa, and this concentration into very few sites is why the flamingo is officially categorized as Near Threatened under the Red List criteria of the IUCN, The World Conservation Union. Over half a million of these flamingos, along with enormous numbers of many other waterbird species, use Lake Natron, making it one of the world’s great wildlife spectacles and one of the key tourist attractions in northern Tanzania and nearby parts of Kenya.
“The Lesser Flamingo is globally classified as 'Near Threatened' in the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,” said Dr. Brooks Childress, Chair of the Wetlands International / IUCN-SSC (Species Survival Commission); Flamingo Specialist Group. “Over 75% of the species’ global population occurs in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa. There appears to be very little interchange between this large sub-population and other smaller Lesser Flamingo regional populations. The East African sub-population has bred only on Lake Natron for the past 45 years, effectively making Lake Natron the only breeding site for over 75% of the global population. “The Lesser Flamingo is very sensitive to water levels and disturbance during breeding. Changes in water level, water chemistry or disturbance could easily cause the birds to abandon their breeding attempt.” he added.
In September 2006, experts led by Dr Childress met at the BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat office to start the process of drafting the International Lesser Flamingo Species Action Plan under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species and AEWA (the African-European Migratory Waterbird Agreement). At the time the experts involved declared: “the most critical threat to the survival of the Lesser Flamingo to be the loss and/or degradation of its specialised habitat through altered hydrology and water quality”.
The Lesser Flamingo is not the only waterbird species gravely threatened by this development. A less spectacular but much less numerous and probably equally threatened species found at Lake Natron is the Chestnut-banded Plover Charadrius pallidus. Counts undertaken as a part of the African Waterbird Census, coordinated by Wetlands International, found 4,357 individuals of this species at Lake Natron in January 2005. This means that almost the entire population of the East African subspecies Charadrius pallidus venestus was at Lake Natron at that time. The other subspecies of Chestnut-banded Plover, pallidus, occurs in Southern Africa and numbers about 11,200 birds, so that the development at Lake Natron will threaten the entire subspecies venestus, and nearly one third of the population of this enigmatic and very scarce species.
Catastrophic losses of two threatened species and damage to the vital tourist industry of Tanzania and Kenya seem a high price to pay for production of washing soda.
Wetlands International is shocked by this proposed activity. The organisation calls for a thorough investigation of the impact of this proposed activity on the lake and its unique biodiversity. Lake Natron is so vital for the survival of some globally threatened species that only activities with certainly no major impact can be allowed.
Please sign the petition to support the case of the lesser Flamingos of lake Natron.
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