Africa’s leading conservationists meet as chemical plant threatens three-quarters of world’s Lesser Flamingo
Leading conservationists from 23 African nations have today met to sign a petition opposing the proposed chemical plant on the shores of Tanzania’s Lake Natron, which threatens 75% of the world’s Lesser Flamingo.
The petition was signed by delegates of BirdLife’s Council for the Africa Partnership (CAP) in Nairobi and follows months of speculation and international outcry over the proposed salt ash development on Tanzania’s border with Kenya.
More than half a million pairs of Lesser Flamingos may nest at Lake Natron. The lake is the only reliable breeding site for the species' East African population – more than 75 per cent of the world’s total.
Lake Natron's isolation and vast salt flats provide crucial safety from predators, while its alkaline waters, rich in cyanobacteria, and lakeside springs supply food and freshwater for parents and chicks. The lake supports the huge concentrations of Lesser Flamingos that feed and roost on other lakes up and down the Rift Valley, hailed as “the greatest ornithological spectacle in the world” and supporting a thriving tourist economy.
The proposed salt ash plant would pump 530 cubic metres of brine per hour and produce 0.5 million tons of sodium carbonate a year. The large-scale development would also include a sizable residential complex.
Delegates attending the BirdLife Council Meeting fear that the entire flamingo population could be lost if the development goes ahead, citing a number of reasons, including: likely changes in the chemical composition of the water (affecting the cyanobacteria on which the flamingos depend); disruption of nest sites; and expansion of surrounding infrastructure, a factor which could bring in new predators, particularly Marabou Stork – a species linked to mass nest desertions in breeding Greater Flamingo, a similar species.
"This is a clear opportunity for the Tanzanian government to continue showing moral and environmental responsibility in Africa by taking a decision not to proceed with the Soda Ash development." —Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson, Head of BirdLife's Africa Division
BirdLife, the world’s largest alliance of conservation organisations, is fully opposed to the plans, first made public in an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) put forward by consultants for Lake Natron Resources Limited (a joint venture of the Tanzanian Government and the Indian company Tata Chemicals) in mid-July 2007.
Lake Natron Resources Limited have now submitted a revised version of their ESIA to Tanzania’s National Environment Management Council, who will in turn make recommendations to Tanzania’s Minister of State in the Vice-Presidents Office for Environment. It is here the decision will ultimately rest.
"We strongly urge the government to look at its natural resources – to look at the sustainable resource Lake Natron currently provides. The lake secures a way of life for nomadic communities, and the flamingos produce a thriving tourist economy. To jeopardize this for an ill-considered development would be economic, and moral, suicide,” said Mengistu Wondafrash, Chairman of the Council of the African Partnership (CAP).
The sight of Lesser Flamingo are a big pull for tourists to the area: worth up to US$12 million say the East African Lake Natron Consultative Group, opposing the development.
“If we can’t work to protect habitat for one of Africa’s most charismatic ‘postcard’ species, what hope is there for other species?” he added.
Much has been made of the Tanzanian government’s role in the final decision: “As a continent, Africa is making great strides towards conserving its immense biodiversity,” said the Head of BirdLife’s Africa Division, Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson. “Tanzania must think clearly of what this decision on Lake Natron says of its environmental credentials, and to the other twenty-four nations which are represented here at this meeting today.”
"This is a clear opportunity for the Tanzanian government to continue showing moral and environmental responsibility in Africa by taking a decision not to proceed with the Soda Ash development."
The petition, signed by conservationists from 23 African nations, will now be sent to the Tanzanian government and Tata Chemicals. To see a copy click here