Flamingos face industrial pollution threat

Plans to build a huge industrial complex on the shores of a protected African lake, pump salt into the water and introduce a hybrid shrimp to increase salinity have been condemned as madness by conservationists.

Lake Natron in Tanzania is the world’s most important breeding site for the lesser flamingo and currently plays to host to over half a million birds – 75% of the total population – who return to the site every year to breed.

It is currently the only breeding site for the birds in East Africa and one of just five in the world.

The pristine lake is now under threat, however, as developers want to build a factory to produce sodium carbonate for cleaning products.

The planned factory would include its own coal-fired power station and over 1,000 construction staff would be housed on-site during development.

Once complete, the plant would pump salty water into the lake and possibly introduce a hybrid shrimp population to further increase the sodium output.

The RSPB and Tanzanian conservation groups have reacted in horror to the plans, which have been proposed by Indian chemical giant TATA.

“Putting Lake Natron at risk is bonkers,” said Dr Chris Magin, the RSPB’s international officer for Africa.

“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.”

“‘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.

TATA hosted a workshop to publicise some of the findings of its environmental impact assessment this week, but many NGOs were barred from attending.

Lota Melamari, chief executive of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania, 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.”

Sam Bond

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