Located near the Tanzanian-Kenyan border. In Lake Natron’s case, it’s skimming over the fact that the waters mummify hundreds of animals every year.
Placid Lake Natron is lethal to pretty much every life form except for a certain species of extremophile fish (the official fish of the X Games). Anything else that comes into contact with Natron or its vapors for too long dies, due to the lake’s insane sodium levels that make it nearly as corrosive as ammonia.
Because of its alkalinity and temperatures that can spike up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the lake also dries out and calcifies the animals’ carcasses, eternally preserving them as desiccated flesh statues via the same process used by the Ancient Egyptians to create mummies.
Lake Natron is a hots pot for beautiful life. And for those
animals that do become interred here, animals don’t immediately die and turn to stone upon touching the lake. Those that fall in and perish are exceptionally preserved by the salts that make the lake so unique, but the lake’s surface isn’t an aquatic equivalent of the Medusa’s gaze.
There are species that are perfectly capable of living near lake Natron without facing inevitable doom — specifically, there are extremophile fish, bacterium, and a specific type of algae that thrives in the alkaline-rich waters. The lake is also one of the largest breeding ground for North Africa’s lesser flamingos (not to be confused with the greater flamingo, which has a different bill and is just a bit larger– you know, “greater”), who come to the lake to feed on the aforementioned algae. Yes, the occasional flamingo dies and is preserved, but as you can see from the featured image above, there are plenty more that come out just fine.
No one is disputing that Natron is a dangerous place for most species, of course. As the New Scientist says, the lake can reach temperatures up to 60 °C and has an alkalinity between pH 9 and pH 10.5, making it pretty dang gross on the best of days — it can even burn the skin and eyes of animals who aren’t adapted to it. It also does preserve many of these animals’ bodies, specifically due to the combination of chemicals that are deposited into the water via runoff from a nearby Great Rift Valley volcano, Ol Doinyo Lengai.
The real Natron mummification process takes a bit more time, though some might argue that it produces even creepier results, which routinely wash up on the lake shore.
Lake Natron is such an attractive mating site for flamingos because the water stays low enough to prevent nest flooding but remains high enough that there’s a barrier between predators and the conical nests the birds build. Two developments threaten the birds. A dam and a soda ash extraction factory will dramatically alter the ecology of the lake. The human activity may directly drive off the skittish birds, not to mention the ways both projects might alter the ecology of the water and mud the flamingos have come to rely upon. The spectacle the Lesser Flamingo puts on at Lake Natron may soon disappear. The place is already dead.
Lake Natron often turns blood-red and “scabs over.”
This is due to the algae and bacteria inhabiting the lake as well as the salt deposits crusting atop its surface.