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TATA to pristine flamingo lake

The world’s most important breeding site for the endangered lesser flamingo could soon be destroyed by industrial pollution.

Developers want to build a huge soda ash plant on the internationally protected Lake Natron in Tanzania pumping salty water from the lake for the production and export of sodium carbonate or washing soda. They also plan to house more than 1,000 construction staff on site.

Lake Natron hosts more than 500,000 lesser flamingos in summer – 75 per cent of the world’s breeding population - and has been the bird’s only nesting site in East Africa for 45 years.

It is listed by the international Ramsar Wetland Convention and designated an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International. Dr Chris Magin, the RSPB’s International Officer for Africa, said: “Putting Lake Natron at risk is bonkers. It is a pristine site like no other in the world.

“The chances of lesser flamingos continuing to breed at Lake Natron in the face of such mayhem are next to zero. This development will leave lesser flamingos in East Africa facing extinction and should be stopped in its tracks and sunk in water so deep it can never be revived.”

Consultants for Lake Natron Resources Limited, which is part of the Indian company TATA Chemicals, will today (July 12) host a workshop to make public only part of its report on the environmental impact of the salt ash proposals.

Lake Natron Resources wants to install heavy machinery to pump water from the lake and build a coal-run power station and housing for workers on site. It could also introduce a hybrid shrimp to the lake to increase the salinity of the water.

Conservationists in Africa and the UK are determined to influence the environmental report before it goes to the Tanzanian government but many have been barred from the workshop including the Lake Natron Consultative Group, which represents a number of environmental organisations.

Lota Melamari, Chief Executive of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania, is attending the workshop. He said: “Whatever the decision, the survival of the lesser flamingo must not be jeopardised. The opportunity to see so many of these colourful birds together on one site is one of Africa’s most popular tourist attractions.”

Lake Natron is in the Great Rift Valley in northern Tanzania, close to the Kenyan border. It is known as a soda lake because of its high concentration of sodium carbonate.

It is one of only five breeding sites for lesser flamingos in the world but if it is damaged, there is no evidence that the birds will breed successfully elsewhere.

Dr Magin said: “This could be the beginning of the end for the lesser flamingo. Millions of people have enjoyed the spectacle of flocks of flamingos in Tanzania and Kenya and all of that is now in jeopardy.

“Bringing an alien species to the lake could cause damage that no-one can foresee and the world is already reeling from the consequences of both deliberate and accidental introductions of alien species including mink in the UK, rabbits in Australia and Nile perch in Lake Victoria in Africa.

“Today’s report could considerably underestimate the harm the soda ash development will do. If it does, it must be changed to reflect the serious and irreversible harm soda extraction will cause.”

Cath Harris | alfa
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