A soda lake at the base of the active Ol Donyo Lengai volcano, the area around Lake Natron is often described as having a desolate and almost lunar beauty. Walks around the lake and to the streams and waterfalls along the nearby escarpment, make for a fantastic adventure off the beaten track.
Lake Natron is a salt lake located in northern Tanzania, close to the Kenyan border, in the eastern branch of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. The lake is fed by the Ewaso Ng’iro River but also by mineral-rich hot springs and is quite shallow, less than three meters (10 feet) deep, and varies in width depending on its water level, which changes due to high levels of evaporation, leaving high levels of salt and other minerals. The surrounding country is dry and receives irregular rainfall.
The color of the lake is characteristic of those where very high evaporation rates occur. As water evaporates during the dry season, salinity levels increase to the point that salt-loving microorganisms begin to thrive. The red pigment in the cyanobacteria produces the deep reds of the open water of the lake, and orange colors of the shallow parts of the lake. The alkali salt crust on the surface of the lake is also often colored red or pink by the salt-loving microorganisms that live there. Salt marshes and freshwater wetlands around the edges of the lake do support a variety of plants.
The high temperature and the high and very variable salt content of the lake does not support most wildlife. However it is an important habitat for flamingos and is home to endemic algae, invertebrates and even fish that can survive in the salty water.
The lake is the only regular breeding area in East Africa for the 2.5 million endangered Lesser Flamingoes. As salinity increases, so do the number of cyanobacteria, and the lake can support more nests. These flamingoes, the largest flock in East Africa, gather along saline lakes in the region. Lake Natron is a safe breeding location for Lesser Flamingoes, because its caustic environment is a barrier against predators trying to reach their nests. Greater Flamingo also breed on the mud flats