Decision to save flamingo breeding ground ‘a lifeline’

A plan to build a soda ash plant on a lake in northern Tanzania has been thrown out 'for now,' following a meeting of the Tanzanian environment ministry with a number of international bodies.

Environmentalists hailed the move as a ‘lifeline’ to 1m lesser flamingos living around Tanzania’s Lake Natron – considered the species’ most important breeding site in the world.

“The decision was a huge surprise,” an RSPB spokesperson told Edie. “People were pessimistic before the meeting, but it was a chink of light.”

In addition to the environmental assessment of the site “‘showing ultimate rejection,” the RSPB said that developers were told to look at other sites which could be promising for any further talks on building in this area threatening both the flamingos and wildlife attractions.

Of the 14 bodies present at last week’s meeting, including conservation groups, national parks and the EU, most said the development should be rejected because of the risk of driving away the flamingos, harming other species and irreversibly damaging Lake Natron, which is protected by international law.

Lake Natron Resources, the developers for the proposed ash plant, have now been ordered to produce a new and better environmental statement and consider other sites for soda ash extraction.

They had planned to pump salt into the water and introduce hybrid shrimp to increase salinity.

Environmentalist said this could cause major water shortages for nomads in the area, and devour 100,000 litres of freshwater and 550,000 litres of brine, or saltwater, every hour.

Campaigns to save the breeding site received support from big names such as Sir David Attenborough who said: “These spectacular birds deserve the strongest protection we can offer them.”

There are between 1.5 and 2.5 million lesser flamingos in East Africa – three-quarters of the world’s population – and it is likely that every one of them hatched at Lake Natron.

Dr Dieter Hoffmann, the RSPB’s head of global programmes, said: “Lake Natron is the most important place in the world for these birds and a huge asset to Tanzania and should never have been earmarked for development.

“We will continue our fight against the development until we know it is scrapped.”

Dana Gornitzki

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