With this week’s bird of the week being the Flamingo, it reminded me of an important environmental and conservation concern regarding this spectacular pink bird: SODA ASH (sodium carbonate). The Eastern Rift Valley is home to Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, Lake Elementaita, Lake Magadi, and Lake Natron – all soda lakes, famous for providing the habitat of the near-threatened Lesser Flamingo.
Sodium carbonate is used in many household and industrial products and is being harvested in Lake Magadi, Kenya by TATA Chemicals, who are also proposing to set up a new environmentally devastating plant at Lake Natron, Tanzania.
The introduction of a soda ash plant into Lake Natron would have catastrophic effects on the already near-threatened Lesser Flamingo. Not only would the plant lead to habitat degradation and species loss, but its development would also be detrimental to East African tourism, and the livelihood of the Maasai community living in the surrounding area.
Bird Life International highlighted these concerns in April 2011 with their article “Fresh concerns as President orders Lake Natron soda ash mining fast tracked”
“Lake Natron is the only regular breeding site for Lesser Flamingos in Eastern Africa. The 1.5-2.5 million Lesser Flamingos – which represents three quarters of the world population – breed only at Lake Natron. ………Noise from the heavy equipment, the presence of people and a network of pipes will chase away the birds which are highly sensitive to disturbance while breeding”
Lessons learned in Lake Magadi highlight that little to no economic or development benefits have come from harvesting soda ash in the magical waters home to the flamingo.
“Soda ash mining at Lake Magadi has left local communities disillusioned with little to show for the 100 years of mining. The environment has been damaged and fresh water nearly depleted”
With the re-emergence of the issue recently, the Star published an environmental commentary, ‘Don’t Fund Lake Natron Mining’ advocating halting the development of a soda ash factory on Lake Natron.
Let this be a call to bird enthusiasts, ornithologists, conservationists, environmentalists, and tourism professionals to come together and advocate for the protection of Lake Natron, the rehabilitation of Lake Magadi and the security of our precious Lesser Flamingo.
Watch the amazing documentary The Crimson Wing and find inspiration to see these Flamingos continue their flight between the Rift Valley soda lakes.
The stunning movie trailer: The Crimson Wing
Other important articles and resources: