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The Lake Of Death, Tanzania
Lake Natron, Tanzania is considered the most dangerous lake in the world because the alkaline and saline water can burn human’s eyes and skin on contact – and even kill a human if he or she were to be submerged for a time.
If you visit Lake Natron, you will not be swimming in this lake!
However, there is a creature that thrives on this lake – the elegant, delicate-looking flamingo.
As many as two and a half million lesser flamingos live, breed, and lay their eggs in the alkaline waters of Lake Natron. Visitors come from all over the world to see the red waters of Lake Natron and capture photos of the beautiful flamingos that call this harsh environment home.
Lake Natron Facts
Location: Northern Tanzania, near the border to Kenya in the Gregory Rift
A soda (or salt) lake with a ph level of 10.5 (alkaline)
Temperature: 100 – 140 F
Breeding grounds for over 2.5 million Lesser Flamingos
Most important nesting ground for Lesser Flamingos in the world
About Lake Natron
lake Natron in Tanzania gets its incredibly high alkalinity and salinity from nearby Oldonyio Lengai; an active volcano that spews a lava very high in sodium carbonate.
The bedrock around Lake Natron has been measured, showing that it was formed from the sodium-dense hardened lava from the neighboring volcano. Therefore, over millennia, the sodium has leached from the bedrock into the waters of the lake.
Since the lake has no outlet, and the area gets infrequent rainfall, over centuries the salinity of the water has increased.
While the hot sun evaporates the shallow waters of the lake, the sodium carbonate remains.
The alkaline levels of Lake Natron’s water have been measured as high as 10.5 on the ph rating scale (that’s nearly as high as ammonia), which can burn humans, animals and birds on contact.
A Hot Lake
It is a very warm lake, with temperatures rating between 100F-120F year-round, with the highest temperature readings being a frightening 140F.
For reference, 140F is hot enough to burn human skin in a matter of seconds!
Most creatures cannot live in such hostile environments. Therefore, the lake only hosts a few aquatic creatures, including a type of alkaline-adapted tilapia fish that resides only in the cooler areas of the lake.
Is Lake Natron Dangerous to Humans?
Yes, the ph level of the water of Lake Natron is incredibly alkaline – nearly a ph level of 11, which can burn human skin.
Further, the heat of the water can be over 120F, which can cause burns if a human remains in the water for a sustained period of time.
Some humans have survived a quick dip in Lake Natron (due to a helicopter crash, not intentionally swimming), but they did experience extensive burns on their bodies.
The water is too dangerous for humans to attempt to get it.
Thankfully, the Lake Natron community of Ngare Sero has a water source in the form of a freshwater river, which is completely safe. Take a trek to the Ngare Sero Waterfall if you’re looking for a swim while in Lake Natron.
Why Is It Red in Color?
Apart from being an alkaline lake, Lake Natron is also red in color.
This is due to the high concentration of special algae known as cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria thrives in alkaline and saline waters and it flourishes in Lake Natron.
It gives the water this unique red color.
Apart from offering a unique, beautiful hue to Lake Natron’s waters, cyanobacteria are also deadly to many creatures.
The chemical properties of this algae are powerful enough to kill nerves in many types of small animals and birds. Many birds die after eating cyanobacteria-filled water; except one – the flamingo.
Cyanobacteria is actually their preferred food and the reason flamingos’ feathers turn such a lovely pink color, too!
Cyanobacteria is the biological name, but it carries another name you might be familiar with spirulina. This algae is safe for humans to eat, and incredibly helpful – but buy it from the grocery store, don’t risk touching the waters of Lake Natron!
How do Flamingos Survive in Lake Natron?
While other animals perish if they even touch or drink the water of Lake Natron, flamingos are able to live here – and even feed on Cyanobacteria; how?
The salt of Lake Natron’s waters is filtered by an incredible gland in the flamingo’s head, and their bodies have adapted to the hot water, without risk of burns to their long legs.
Furthermore, they have not only managed to survive – but thrive in this harsh climate.
There are no natural predators of flamingos on the shores of Lake Natron.
This makes Lake Natron the ideal breeding and nesting ground for flamingos. It is estimated that nearly 75% of all Lesser Flamingos in the world are hatched in the shallow waters of Lake Natron.
Flamingos lay their eggs in shallow waters, atop mounds of mud, and can even leave the eggs unattended because of the lack of predators.
If you love flamingos, there is no better place to see these magnificent pink birds than on the lakeshore of Africa’s deadliest lake.
Myths of Mummified Animals in Lake Natron
In 2013 photographs from photographer Nick Brandt were published, giving the impression that animals simply wandered into Lake Natron and were immediately “turned to stone”: rock-hard birds perched on tree limbs, a stone flamingo floating in the shallow water – these “mummies of Lake Natron” are real, but misrepresented.
The birds, flamingos, and Cape Buffalo as photographed by Brandt were not stone, but rather ‘pickled’ by the intense chemical makeup of the lake.
The photographer found the creatures washed up along the lakeshore and staged their positioning. He moved wings and legs to give the appearance that the animals had turned to stone. In reality, these animals were actually naturally mummified by the waters of the lake and did not die while perched on a tree branch.
Either way, it’s sort of cool, if you think about a lake in Northern Tanzania having the exact right chemical elements to mummify a creature – or burn your skin. This is why Lake Natron is considered the Lake of Death.
Are you ready to experience Lake Natron, Tanzania for yourself? Book with Altezza Travel to visit Africa’s Lake of Death.